UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preparing for a pilgrimage : Richard F. Burton, disguise, and India Hollands, Narinder K.


Richard F. Burton's Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Disguise explores a process of achievement. In 1853, by using a disguise, Burton successfully completed the Haj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. This thesis uses Burton's own writings on India, as well as books and material written about Burton and research materials retrieved from the British and Huntington Libraries, to reveal certain challenges that Burton faced in the unknown land as one of the locals. To dress, speak, act, look, and perform all the religious and social customs can be a very difficult task. Therefore, this thesis examines all of these aspects one at a time, gradually building a complete picture of Burton's experiences in India and his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. The goal of this thesis is to uncover Burton's disguise. In order to reach this goal, first the thesis examines Burton's ability to master different languages. We are informed by Burton himself that he was fluent in twenty nine different languages. This makes Burton an extraordinary individual, and it certainly makes him stand out in the East India Company. We have a vast amount of Burton's writings, translated literature, and poetry all of which demonstrate his ability to understand and use languages. Secondly, the thesis will focus on Burton's conversion to Islam as well as the process of his learning every social custom of this religion. This required Burton to study Koran and do many Sufi exercises. How after such as. short time did Burton adjust his lifestyle and live like a Muslim. What were his religious antics? How were they performed? Why were these social manners important? The thesis aims to answer all these questions in its examination of Burton's life in the Orient. Thirdly, since India was Burton's stage on which he acted out different characters, the thesis will examine Burton's disguises. Burtons spent months and years getting comfortable with his disguises of a Dervish, a Pathan, and Mirza Abdullah. These incarnations presented a great challenge, but they eventually became easy for Burton, as his knowledge of religion, customs, culture, and languages increased. This thesis will show how all of these elements come together and enabled Burton to undertake his epic pilgrimage.

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