what the face of a man who combined genius with open-mindedness, courage
with perseverance and curiosity with fearlessness looks like.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton,
the only man in history who could claim to be a scholar and polymath of
the highest order as well as a fighter and adventurer second to none.
you see the scar on his cheek? There was also one on the other side of
his face. The cause: he was impaled by Somali Waranye warrior's spear.
It entered one cheek and came out the other, slicing through his palate,
teeth and jaw. Afterwards it had to be wrenched out by one man hauling
on it while others held his head. He also received ten other wounds in
the same incident.
This happened on the first of his expeditions
into the African interior. He would go on many more, not only in Africa
but also Asia and South America, in the process - together with John
Hanning Speke - discovering the source of the Nile.
Now take a look at this picture.
Burton again, dressed as a pilgrim on his way to Mecca. Burton did the
Hajj as a non-muslim! In 1853 he successfully traveled to Mecca in
disguise amongst a group of pilgrims on foot and returned safely.
Does he remind you of Lawrence of Arabia perhaps?
Well, there are some crucial differences. Burton didn't dress as an Arab, he became an
Arab. He spoke the language so fluently and knew the detailed customs
so perfectly that he could and did pass himself off as an Arab. He even
underwent circumcision to properly play the part.
Not only did he
pass himself off as an Arab but he also successfully passed for a
Pashtun and numerous other ethnic groups among the very groups
themselves. Not surprising considering he was proficient in nineteen
languages by the time he was twenty. In fact he would speak twenty nine
languages by the time he died, including Greek, Jataki, Hindi, Marathi,
Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Pushtu, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swahili, Amarhic,
Fan, Egba, Asante, Hebrew, Aramaic and a dozen European languages.
He was also an accomplished writer. However, no mundane topic would ever do for Sir Richard.
Burton was the man who introduced the Kama Sutra to the rest the world...
and the Arabian Nights...
and the Perfumed Garden...
He also wrote books on sword fighting..
and bayonet fighting..
as well as many detailed geographical papers and accounts of his explorations..
was not the most heroic man and certainly not the most decent. Although
clever he wasn't the greatest in that regard either.