Social and economic conditions stemming from isolation and the historically distinct intellectual world of the islanders laid the foundation for their unique culture. Besides the survival of old traditions, the islands are typified by a receptiveness to new currents and diverse folk art. Due to the scant amount of arable land, people were forced to supplement their income by fishing and doing seasonal work on the mainland. Cultivating the land was left mainly to the women.
The quintessential Saaremaa and Muhu village is called a sumbküla or cluster village. The farm buildings were in a tight or loose group around a central village square. In olden days, this was the site of the village well. The characteristic appearance of Saaremaa and Muhu villages comes from the high stone walls that surround the yards and also fields, pastures and hayfields. Mossy limestone walls - laid in the same locations for centuries gave the settlement a permanent framework. These are singular monuments to the difficult work done by the people of Saaremaa who eked out a living in the stony fields. Hiiumaa farmyards are predominantly surrounded with wood fences.
The museum encompasses Estonia’s three largest islands: Saaremaa – Roosta farm (18th C), Paka Moravian prayer house, Kotlandi and Leedri windmills and net sheds; Hiiumaa – Kolga farm (from the second half of the 19th C), Hiiumaa islanders’ itinerant fishing shed, Ülendi windmill; Muhu – Jüri-Jaagu (from the early 20th C) and Jaagu farm (turn of the 19th-20th C).