Kihnu: The Estonian Island Where Women Rule

I recently visited Estonia, and had a wonderful time researching for my new novel (and overeating). One of the islands I came across had a very interesting matriarchal society. The island of Kihnu (Estonia) is one of the few places on Earth where women rule and is recognized as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.

You can get a free copy of my fantasy novel based in Estonia, here

View of Kihnu Shore By Olev Mihkelmaa, - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As an archaeologist, I'm always interested in different societal structures. From polyandry, to indifference to parentage, to arranged marriages, today's societal norms are just one of many responses to the struggles of life. So the chance to learn about an existing matriarchal society (and explaining to my daughters why it mattered) was important. Kihnu is a small island in the Baltic sea, south of Pärnu (the "summer capital" of Estonia). It is easily reached by ferry in the summer or by plane. There are 500 - 800 people who live there.

Historically the men of Kihnu went off fishing and the women were left as stewards of the island. Eventually this stewardship became leadership. Music, singing and crafts are an important part of everyday life on the island, and in recognition of this fact the island was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

A matriarchal society does not imply that the men are second-class citizens or deferential (as is often depicted in fiction). Instead, the society of Kihnu is a partnership, with both men and women working to maintain their traditions and their culture. One group must leave for many months to provide food and money, the other must maintain the island, the government, the society. And they have partnered that way for hundreds of years.

Was this a strict division? Or were men and women allowed to decide what jobs they did? Often in fiction an author will have a particular "axe to grind" and will set up a shallow depiction of a matriarchal (or patriarchal) society. The fictional society will either be perfect and fair, yet threatened by its immoral opposite. Or the society will be tyrannical or unnatural beneath its surface, strangling the freedoms of the story's protagonists.

What Kihnu shows us is that neither is realistic. Life is much more complicated than hack fiction writers (like me) would depict. A real society relies on a partnership between many people, or it will fail. And a major part of that partnership is compromise. To stay alive, a society requires a faith in tradition, and embracing new ideas. Not one, or the other. But both.

It was odd to learn about Kihnu, an island where women rule, and then to immediately be invited to join this promotion.  Where Women Rule is a group giveaway of 100 fantasy novels featuring women leads:

I'm giving away the full version of my new humorous fantasy novel Dragon Removal Service. Set in Estonia, it features a young girl who runs a construction company that cleans up magic across the kingdom. Check it out (for free) and let me know what you think.

The print version will be for sale on March 1st everywhere.


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