The Islands

From the earliest times historical fortunes and culture of the islanders from the eastern part of the Baltic Sea were determined by complex and ambiguous political, socio-economical, and religious processes in Northern Europe: from the Vikings’ epoch, crusades, and Hanseatic League domination to wars and territorial repartitions of states  in the 17th and forties of the 20th century.  

In the 13th century the permanent settlements of Swedish colonists existed on the islands of the Aland and Moonsund archipelagos. Later in the 14th century the Swedish fishermen established their settlements on the vacant lands of the islands of Vormse (Vorms), Ryune (Ruhnu),   Kynö (Kihnu), Dagö (Hiiumaa), Odensholm (Osmussaar). Since that time such large islands with mixed Swedish-Estonian population as Ösel (Saaremaa), Moon (Muhu), Dago (Hiiumaa) came under the strong influence of Swedish culture.  The Finish inhabitants of Lavansaari (now Mochnui) and Koivisto (Bierke/Berezovui) island in the Gulf of Finland didn’t avoid it either.

The presence of “Scandinavian element” in western Estonia, and regular interethnic contacts of the indigenous population of western Baltic region with Swedish colonists during seven centuries, all these circumstances contributed to Germanization of the local culture. Here in greater or lesser degree one feels the spirit of Scandinavia in folk costumes, jewelry, tools, furniture, utensils, in calendar and family rites, and naturally in folklore.  The songs often describe impressive picture of sailor’s life, thinking about his destiny (the sailor’s fate is obscure). Akhti (the master of waters), Finnish wizards - the conjurers of winds, undines, water spirits appear in local tales.

In the 19th century the world of the “sea people” found its vivid expression in specific way of living with unique economical and cultural particularities. It was based on such traditional sea occupations as fishery, sea mammals hunting (ringed seal), trade and also piloting and ship building. Baltic islands became the motherland of “wild captains” who furrowed the sea “by eye” without navigational instruments. The skill of orienting by the stars and certain signs on the water, known only to them was transmitted from generation to generation. As the main occupation of male population was fishery, agricultural labor was woman’s lot.  All the aspects of the Baltic islanders’ daily life, and even the psychological type of a “seaman”, his value system and his priorities had specific features.

However, upon closer examination the unique value of the “island world” proved to be cultural mosaic, in which each fragment is a separate island with its unrepeatable colour, exclusively inherent in local culture.

In the early 20th century the vanishing and “exotic” culture of the “sea people” attracted the attention of many scholars and collectors - “amateurs of folk antiquity” including  such correspondents of the Russian Museum Ethnographic Department as N. Arepiev, I.A. Gal’nbek, A.A. Fomin, U. T. Sirelius. Today the artifacts, photographs and ethnographic records gathered by the Russian, Finnish and German enlighteners in 1906–1913 form the “golden stock” of the RME collection on the Baltic islanders and coastal inhabitants. On display at the exhibition are also  the sets of  instruments of traditional male crafts and female handmade articles including the famous embroidered carpets from the Muhu island brought to the Museum by the museum staff members D. A. Gorb and Z.B. Predtechenskaya in 1970s. Photographs and texts: quotations from historical chroniclers, documents and the RME archive materials, folklore records, audio-and-video materials create a special emotional atmosphere.

The required exhibition space: 100 – 150 square meters.

Number of exhibits – about 100