How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes
The world is full of murder
and words are usually
the first to go
In 1905, white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered the Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese and other East Asian immigrants. Chris Tse uses this story - and its reenactment for a documentary a hundred years later - to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture. Along the way we visit the gold fields of the south, a shipwreck in the Hokianga that left the spirits of 500 Chinese goldminers in an unmemorialised limbo for a hundred years and the streets of Newtown, Wellington, where Lionel Terry went out one night 'looking for a Chinaman'. Chris Tse's flickering use of imagery, resonant language and flexible pronouns are particularly suited to the historic events he describes and the viewpoints he shifts through. How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes is a welcome poetic addition to New Zealand literature.
More about Chris Tse
Awards and Nominations
Winner – Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry 2016 – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse
This extraordinary book, speaking equally in the languages of poetry and history, ends by speaking directly to the spirit of Joe Kum Yung and its right to be honoured. - Mary Cresswell, Turbine
How to be dead in a year of snakes is a brave traversing of fiction and New Zealand history. Tse shows how alienation and xenophobia can conspire in human tragedy. This is a riddle but also a lesson, one where we ‘must reach back into madness’ to learn from events that preceded us. - Elizabeth Morton, Booksellers NZ
This collection shows so beautifully, so movingly, the power of poetry to give renewed presence to history; so that the silent bridges billow with a new awareness of how we get to this point. - Paula Green, NZ Poetry Shelf
Ngapuhi is the largest iwi in New Zealand and has occupied the northern North Island, from Tamaki in the south to Te Rerenga Wairua in the north, from the time of their arrival from Hawaiki. Ko Tautoro, Te pito o Toku Ao is Ngapuhi elder Hone Sadler's powerful account of the origins, history and culture of the Ngapuhi people - a profound introduction to the Sacred House of Puhi. Sadler illustrates the unbroken chain of Ngapuhi sovereignty by looking in-depth at his own hapu of Ngati Moerewa, Ngatii Rangi and Ngai Tawake ki te Waoku of Tautoro and Mataraua. The narrative is told through weaving together karakia and whakapapa, histories and korero that have been part of the oral traditions of Ngapuhi's whanau, hapu and iwi and handed down through the generations on marae and other gathering places. Presented first to open the Ngapuhi's claim before the Waitangi Tribunal, Sadler's narrative is a powerful Maori oral account, presented here in Maori and English on facing pages, of the story of New Zealand's largest iwi with a foreword by Margaret Mutu.
More about Hōne Sadler
Read an extract here
This book is a revelation. - Arini Loader, Journal of NZ Studies
...this book is complex yet accessible, beautifully presented, anchored in the landscape of the places and people about whom it is written, and artfully, powerfully argued in a voice of the people. - Arini Loader, Journal of NZ Studies