Burton, Sir Richard
- Ari Nave
Sir Richard Burton spoke twenty-five languages and multiple dialects, including Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, Marathi, Punjab, Arabic, and Hindi. During his travels he observed an enormous range of cultural practices, which he documented in forty-three manuscripts. He also wrote two books of poetry and four volumes of folklore.
Born in Torquay, England, Burton was raised by his English parents primarily in France. He briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford, but was expelled in 1842 for insubordination. He then joined the Bombay army, and served in India (in present-day Pakistan) until 1850. Working as an intelligence officer, Burton learned to impersonate Muslim merchants. His reputation was called into question and his military career cut short, however, when a rival officer spread word that Burton had been investigating homosexual bathhouses in Karachi, failing to divulge that Burton had done so under orders from a senior officer.
After returning to France and ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.