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The cultural implications of these collections were not lost on their editors.
The main motive of many of these linguistic studies was to aid the evangelization of Africa, and grammars, vocabularies, and collections of texts appeared by and for missionaries.
There was close collaboration between linguists and missionaries, and many of the great collections of texts in the nineteenth century were a result of professional or amateur linguists working in full sympathy with the missionary movement and published under its auspices.
A number of scholars noted the connections between their work and the progress in comparative studies in Europe.
Bleek, for instance, significantly entitles his collection of Hottentot stories , to bring out the parallelism between African and European tales.
The popular image of Africa as a land without indigenous literary traditions retains its hold; even now, it is still sometimes expressed in a form as crude as that criticized by Burton a century ago: The savage custom of going naked’, we are told, ‘has denuded the mind, and destroyed all decorum in the language. All in all, there is still the popular myth of Africa as a continent either devoid of literature until contact with civilized nations led to written works in European languages, or possessing only crude and uninteresting forms not worthy of systematic study by the serious literary or sociological student.
The oral literature in particular possesses vastly more aesthetic, social, and personal significance than would be gathered from most general publications on Africa.
Far more, too, has been published on this subject than is usually realized even by many of the students who have recently taken some interest in the subject.
But because much of the detailed research this century has been carried out by individuals working in isolation or, at best, by various schools of researchers out of touch with the work of other groups, the subject as a whole has made little progress over the last generation or so, whether in consolidating what is already known, in criticizing some of the earlier limiting preconceptions, or in publicizing the results to date.
By the end of the century the same point could be stated more dogmatically and succinctly; as Seidel has it in his description of the impact of African oral literature, ‘Und alle sahen mit Erstaunen, dass der Neger denkt und fült, wie wir selbst.denken und fühlen’ (Seidel 1896: 3); but the point has been made—and often with a similar air of discovery—at intervals ever since.
The appreciation of the cultural relevance of the collected texts was taken further by the emerging tradition that a general study of any African people could suitably include a section on their unwritten literature.