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Culture

Four suicides and a murder

Greenland’s national theatre hopes to help others overcome suicide by depicting the life of a woman who has seen an unfair share of tragedy
Culture
Death is our fate, but suicide is a choice we need not make

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Some life stories are too sad to be true. Mikiseq’s life story, however, is true. Unfortunately some might say. Others, perhaps even the main character herself, would choose to look beyond the tragedy.

A Greenlandic woman, whose life is being retold by that country’s national theatre in a dance performance of the same name, Mikiseq has lost four family members to suicide. A close friend was murdered.

The first to die was her mother, whom she found hung when she was six. She almost took her own life after the suicide of her brother. But she didn’t. She received help, and has since gone on to get an education, start a family and become a suicide-prevention counsellor.

Her past is one she cannot escape. Neither is it one she seeks to shy away from. 

“Death,” she tells others, “pokes me in the shoulder every day. And I say, ‘Wait until tomorrow’.”

SEE RELATED: Communities on frontline of suicide-prevention efforts

The deep tragedy of her upbringing has shaped her audacious attitude towards fate. But her story, though extreme, it is one that Greenlanders, faced with the highest suicide rate in the world, can relate to. And it is one that Svenn Syrin, the head of the national theatre, hopes can serve as an example.

“Her story was so gruesome,” he says. “But I thought that there was no way it could go untold. She’s survived. She didn’t give up, even though she wanted to at many points along the way.”

Mikiseq is a pseudonym. It was chosen in order to protect the woman’s identity, yet it is also a nickname she uses to refer to herself. The word means ‘little’, but Syrin says it belies the size of her character and her willpower.

The story of her tragedy – outdone only by the enormity of her triumph – is being retold through what he calls “docu-dans”.

“What we are seeing is Mikiseq’s emotions, expressed through dance,” he explains.

SEE RELATED: Efforts underway to prevent teen suicide in Greenland

Last year, over 30 Greenlanders ended their own lives. Many after a life of abuse, neglect, alcoholism and violence. Denmark, by way of comparison, is home to 5 million people and saw 700 suicides. Were it to have a suicide rate as high as Greenland, that number would have been 3,000.

During performances of ‘Mikiseq’, Syrin says counsellors will be on hand to speak with members of the audience grappling themselves with a suicide.

“Dancers,” as Syrin puts it, “tell the story. Professionals help people.”

The performers in ‘Mikiseq’ hail from Greenland, France and Italy. It is narrated in Greenlandic, Danish and – in the hopes Mikiseq’s story of desperation and survival can spread further than Greenland – English. Currently ‘Mikiseq’ is being shown in Nuuk. Later, it will tour Greenland’s largest towns, and there are plans to stage it in Nunavut, Sampi and Lithuania, all areas with high suicide rates.

“Suicide is a human problem. It is important that we talk about it and tell people the stories of the people who were stronger than it was.”

The tragedy of ‘Mikiseq’ may preclude a happy ending, but if it – and she – can prevent fewer tragedies, then all will not have been in vain.