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Barbara C. Johnson collection of Malayalam Jewish songs from Kerala, India

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Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Barbara C. Johnson, born in 1940, is associate professor of anthropology and coordinator of Jewish Studies at Ithaca College in New York. Continuing over thirty years of research and writing about the Cochin Jews of Kerala, she is the author of a book on Kerala Jewish women's culture in India and Israel, framed by translations, description and analysis of their Malayalam-language songs, as well as Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers, co-authored with Ruby Daniel (1995) and Oh, Lovely Parrot!: Jewish Women's Songs from Kerala. (Compact disc with commentary and English translations, The Jewish Music Research Center, Jerusalem, 2004). She appears to have collected the songs included in this collection, probably as part of a project funded by Oberlin College, in Ohio.

According to Johnson's writings, "beginning in the late 1970s, more than 300 Malayalam Jewish women's songs were salvaged through cooperation between older Kochini women and outside scholars," (Johnson, "Words, Melodies, etc."). The Jewish women of Cochin have been singing Jewish songs in the Malayalam language of Kerala, their ancient homeland on the southwest coast of India for centuries. Until recently, the performance of these songs was in danger of being lost altogether with the immigration of almost all the Cochin Jews to Israel, where younger generations no longer understand Malayalam.

Works consulted:

Jewish Women's Archive. "Barbara C. Johnson." (Viewed on December 5, 2018)

Johnson, Barbara C. "Words, Melodies, Hands, and Feet: Musical Sounds of a Kerala Jewish Women's Dance," AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies (Spring/Summer 2016: The Sound Issue), accessed 2018 December 5.

This collection consists of seven manuscripts (six are photocopies) of collections of Jewish songs (in the sense of "poems") from Kerala, India, chiefly written in Old Malayalam. The manuscripts were given a letter-number identifier which has been maintained in the folder description. The B-series (1-6) appear to have been created in Cochin, while J-1 was created in Chennamangalam. Both regions have Jewish population elements, although the numbers have dwindled significantly as many of the families from these areas have patriated to Israel. The original texts represented in this collection may be 200 to 250 years old, but have been copied over the years into modern books. These copies appear to have been copied in the 1970s, possibly as part of a project.

Gift of David McAlpin, 1981 (collected by Barbara C. Johnson).

All language information and supplied titles contributed by Philip Thomas, working with Mike Williams.

Publisher
University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Holly Mengel
Finding Aid Date
2018 December 5
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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B-1 Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs from the Paradesi Community, Cochin (written in Malayalam with one Hebrew inscription on the final page of intact pages) , circa 1970s.
Box 1 Folder 1
B-1 Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs from the Paradesi Community, Cochin (written in Malayalam with one Hebrew inscription on the final page of intact pages), photocopied fragments , circa 1970s.
Box 1 Folder 2
B-2 Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs from the Paradesi Community, Cochin (in Old Malayalam and Hebrew, written in Malayalam script), photocopy, 1977 January.
Box 1 Folder 3
B-3 Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs from the Paradesi Community, Cochin (names of songs in Old Malayalam and Hebrew, written in Hebrew script), collected by Barbara C. Johnson, photocopy, 1976-1977.
Box 1 Folder 4
B-4 [Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs in old Malayalam] (written in at least two hands), photocopy, circa 1970s.
Box 1 Folder 5
B-5 [Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs in old Malayalam] (43 songs (song 42 missing), inscribed from Cocco Chayal to Esther Koyani), photocopy, circa 1970s.
Box 1 Folder 6
B-6 [Books of Malayalam Jewish Songs in old Malayalam] ("copied by K.V. Anthony"), photocopy of index and 67 pages, 1979 January 18.
Box 1 Folder 7
J-1 Malayalam Jewish Songs from Chennamangalam (containing mostly songs, some selections of Biblical history and parts of the Torah, in Old Malayalam and Hebrew, written in Malayalam script), photocopy, circa 1970s.
Box 1 Folder 8

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