Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was an English explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotist, fencer and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia and Africa as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian, and African languages.
Burton's best-known achievements include travelling in disguise to Mecca, The Book of One Thousand Nights and A Night, an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (also commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after Andrew Lang's abridgement), bringing the Kama Sutra to publication in English, and journeying with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans led by Africa's greatest explorer guide, Sidi Mubarak Bombay, utilizing route information by Indian and Omani merchants who traded in the region, to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile. Burton extensively criticized colonial policies (to the detriment of his career) in his works and letters. He was a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behaviour, travel, fencing, sexual practices, and ethnography. A unique feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and unexpurgated information.
He was a captain in the army of the East India Company serving in India (and later, briefly, in the Crimean War). Following this he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and led an expedition guided by the locals which discovered Lake Tanganyika. In later life he served as British consul in Fernando Po, Damascus and, finally, Trieste. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood (KCMG) in 1886 ...Royal Geographical Society for an exploration of the area and he gained permission from the Board of Directors of the British East India Company to take leave from the army. His seven years in India gave Burton a familiarity with the customs and behaviour of Muslims and prepared him to attempt a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca and, in this case, Medina). It was this journey, undertaken in 1853, which first made Burton famous. He had planned it whilst travelling disguised among the Muslims of Sindh, and had laboriously prepared for the ordeal by study and practice (including being circumcised to further lower the risk of being discovered).
Although Burton was not the first non-Muslim European to make the Hajj (Ludovico di Barthema in 1503 is believed to hold that distinction), his pilgrimage is the most famous and the best documented of the time. He adopted various disguises including that of a Pashtun to account for any oddities in speech, but he still had to demonstrate an understanding of intricate Islamic ritual, and a familiarity with the minutiae of Eastern manners and etiquette. Burton's trek to Mecca was quite dangerous and his caravan was attacked by bandits (a common experience at the time). As he put it, although "... neither Koran or Sultan enjoin the death of Jew or Christian intruding within the columns that note the sanctuary limits, nothing could save a European detected by the populace, or one who after pilgrimage declared himself an unbeliever." The pilgrimage entitled him to the title of Hajji and to wear green head wrap. Burton's own account of his journey is given in A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855).
Some members of his entourage suspected there was more to Burton than met the eye. He came close to being discovered one night when he lifted his robe to urinate, rather than squatting as an Arab would. He thought he was unseen, but the youngest member of his group happened to see him. The lad accused him of being an impostor, but let Burton convince him to keep his doubts to himself.When Burton returned to the British Army he sat for examination as an Arab linguist, which he failed ...