What is Sisu? ABC 10 Feature

ISHPEMING — Sisu is a commonly seen phrase around the Upper Peninsula, but it has its roots back in Northern Europe.

Carl Pellonpaa, former host of Finland Calling said that “It’s almost a magical quality… Sisu. Bravery, to persevere; don’t quit, you can do it.” It’s hard to drive in the Upper Peninsula and not see the word Sisu on a car, shirt or in a store; a reminder that you can do anything you set your mind too.

Tonya Stanaway, a Finnish Native living in the UP said that “Some people say I can do anything if I have Sisu and I have Sisu so I can do stuff.” It’s a common concept through the world… guts, the toughness to push through rough times.

But according to someone who studies it, Sisu has something more. “To me it’s tenacity and guts with a little bit of integrity and smarts mixed in,” said Dr. Hilary Virtanen, Assistant Professor of Finnish and Nordic Studies at Finlandia University, “People who have Sisu preserve in things that matter and are important.”

The word originates in Finland, but Dr. Virtanen says the general concept of Sisu is much older and may be able to be tied back to the ancient Greek idea that courage comes from your guts. “You look at the word Sisu itself,” Stanaway said. “It’s an old word related to Finnish words that deal with the interior of the body… “I really don’t know where it comes from, but I grew up with the Sisu… So, I know it’s an old word, it was used when I was growing up in Finland.”

And when the word came over from Finland it spread across the area, maybe because Sisu is a relatable term. “It seems that everybody can relate to the idea of somebody who goes out and does something very courageous and does something very honorably courageous.”

It takes a little bit of Sisu to make it through our journeys here on Earth. Pellonpaa said that “It took Sisu to join my father and brother and uncles and brother–in–laws in the Cliff Shaft Mine. It took Sisu to face the draft and join the U.S. Army and eventually go to Korea.”