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Mariyamma John, symbol of folklore wisdom, dead

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Mariyamma John
Mariyamma John

Staff Reporter

KOTTAYAM: Mariyamma John, folklore artiste, died at her residence in Changanassery, near here, on Sunday morning after a brief illness. She was popularly known as Mariyamma Chedathy and had worked as a folklore consultant at S.B. College. Though her date of birth is not known, she was said to be more than 90 years old.

Born into the sambava community, Kotha (that was her name till she converted into Christianity at the age of 15), like all other children, would accompany her parents to the fields. And it was there she learnt the scores of folksongs, which were sung by her brethren as they toiled in the filed for the landlords. Her conversion into Christianity snapped her links with her earlier identity, but the collective experiences of generations of her community lived on in her heart, which she rendered flawlessly till her last breath.

Married to John, also a member of the same community who converted into Christianity, Mariyamma Chedathy earned a living working as a sweeper at the St. Berchman’s College, Changanassery. She was ‘discovered’ during the literacy campaign. Within five years, her folksongs were compiled and published.

Published work

The work, ‘Manikkam Pennu,’ was not only popular but also opened a new window into the life of an oppressed community.

She was relieved of her job as a sweeper and was appointed as a folklore consultant at the Malayalam Department of the college. She used to take classes for postgraduate students.

Even after her retirement, she was active with live folksong performances and TV shows. She also sang for the Malayalam movie ‘Karunam’.

Mariyamma John was honoured by the Folklore Academy with award and fellowship.

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