Although the island has only about 510 inhabitants during the summer, the population can increase significantly when tourists are counted. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Mare Matas dedicates her time to the preservation of the traditional Kihnu way of life. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Photographer Jeremie Jung’s “Kihnu, the Estonian Isle of Traditions” is a photo documentary project about an island inhabited by only 500 people in the Baltic Sea. It is a place where the people embrace tradition, including wearing traditional clothing, speaking the local dialect and teaching their children folk traditions in school. But it is also a place that embraces modern life.

Jung photographed the island on several occasions and over several years. Mingling slowly with the population, he visited in spring, late summer and autumn of 2013, then again in the summer of 2014, Christmas of 2017 and, finally, in May 2019.

Jung told In Sight a little bit more about the project

“Kihnu, an Estonian island in the Gulf of Riga, situated an hour’s ferry ride away from the coast, has, thanks to its women, retained a culture that has cemented its position as part of UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage since 2003.

“Whereas Kihnu’s men — for the most part sailors and fishermen — brought innovation and novelty to the island, the women, who we could qualify as ‘cultural guardians,’ were more conservative and tended to the affairs of the island. And so, despite the influence of the dominant powers (Danish, Swedish, German, Russian), the islanders have managed to preserve their traditions to this day. Theirs is a culture that expresses itself every day through clothes, dialect and celebrations, through music, songs and religion, in a form of syncretism that brings together local traditions and beliefs.

“In the other regions of Estonia, traditional clothes are donned only during special occasions and events. On the island of Kihnu, skirts are worn on a daily basis in the same way a pair of jeans would be on the continent: in the field, at church, in shops, at the pub and at school.

“The skirts worn by young girls, for example, tend to be of a brighter red. And as the years go by, various life events would impact the garment’s look. During periods of mourning, skirts would go from red to black, before transiting to blue and then back to red. The skirts encapsulate a lifetime of memories by harboring the traces of all these events that have punctuated the wearers’ lives.”


Although cars and motorcycles do circulate across the island, cycling is a more common way for people get around. Here, women head home after the monthly Orthodox mass. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

From left, Kaido Aas, Margus Laarents and Eduard Koster fix a fishing net. They belong to a fishing team of six. They share the boats and the net. Each team owns a net and can fish a limited quota per fishing season. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Mare Matas and two of her children, Mann, 3, and Anni, 7, after celebrating a christening during a visit of the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in 2013. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

From left, Kulli Laos, Maariel Matas, Joanna Kott, Liis Matas and Loviisa Laarents wait for the first day of school to begin. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

From left, Margus Laarents, Eeri Vahkel, Eeri Vesik, Eduard Koster and Kaido Was fish for Baltic herring. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Winters are tough and long on the island. When the thaw comes, that means tourist season will begin again. That also means that fishing season will be open again, which is a very important source of income for Kihnu. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Inhabitants clean up the island, getting it ready for tourist season. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Martin Matas has a sauna session before Christmas celebrations. The Matas family has been preparing for the celebrations for days, cleaning up the house. When that is done, they go to the sauna and then take a cold bath. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Women dance together during a celebration. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

After Christmas Eve, the Kihnu people go from house to house, celebrating with friends. They eat, drink and play music together. Here, a group of youngsters visit the farm of the Kuraga family.(Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Mihkel Lilles checks a fishing net at his home. Lilles went fishing for the first time with his dad when he was 6. Now 64, he still prepares his boat for fishing every year even though he has not gone out to sea for six years. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

People attend Kandi Vilma’s funeral. The mass is being done by Orthodox priest Viktor Merik. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Mare Matas visits with neighbor Eveli Matas during Christmas celebrations. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

A group of women attend a reopening celebration of a lighthouse. The color of the women’s skirts has special meaning in Kihnu: black for mourning and then blue as mourning progresses. Finally, they wear bright red. Younger women tend to wear brighter skirts than older women do. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Two fishermen return after a morning fishing trip. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

Talvi Kott and Merike Matas rest in between kitchen shifts during the Merepidu festival. The festival is a popular event for tourists; the two women cook for visitors. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

A Lada Jiguli is parked on the island. The car is typical from Soviet times. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

A ferry leaves port, on its way to the mainland. (Jeremie Jung/SIGNATURES)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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