Life, death and preserving tradition on an Estonian island of only a few hundred people

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.”

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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