Although at least twelve Europeans had penetrated the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in disguise and lived to tell of the experiences, the risk of death if caught was real, and Burton took every precaution, including that of having himself circumcised. Posing as a Pathan born in india of Afghan parents, Burton began the journey determined to fulfill every ritual requirement. He was tormented by heat and desert winds, lamed by nasy foor infection, and threatened by the general hazards of a journey that invariably cost the lives of many Moslem pilgrims. The resulting three-volume account of his adventures, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimmage to Al-Medinah and Meccah, was a truly remarkable historical document. His insights into Moslem thinking were original and perspicacious; his details, whether written in admiration, contempt, or fury, were exact.
The book made a sensation in England. But instead of returning to enjoy his fame, Burton was off to another holy and forbidden city. Harar, the capital of Somaliland. “When I spoke of visiting it,” he wrote, “men stroked their beards, and in Oriental phrase declared that the human head once struck off does not regrow like the rose.” Undismayed, he put on Moslem garb, penetrated the city, and talked freely with the king, persuading him of Britain’s wish for friendly relations, and after ten days escaped without mishap. This only sharpened his appetite for more. He planned a second expedition with several British officers, among them Captain John John Hanning Speke. Almost at the outset they were ambushed by Somali natives. One man was killed, Speke was badly wounded, and Burton had a javelin hurled through his jaw.
Forced to return to Aden for medical aid, Burton hurredly wrote up the account of both adventures. The resulting First Footsteps in East Africa; or An Exploration of Harar ( 1856) went almost unnoticed in England, for the Crimean War had broken out and overshadowed interest in everything else. Burton went off to the Crimea, where he served on General Beatson’s staff in the Dardanelles. He was never able to get to the front.
Once the war was over, he determined with characteristic audacity to put an end finally to the centuries-old mystery of the source of the White Nile. Al expeditions attempting to trace the great river from Egypt had ended in the cataracts and vast morasses of the South, with heat, malaria and hostile natives taking a dreadful toll; and the origins of the annual September flood that inundated the lower valley were still, in 1858, “the greatest geographical secret after the discovery of America.”
No one had much improved on the map drawn by Ptolemy, which suggested that the Nile rose in two great lakes, said to have been visited by a Greek merchant named Diogenes in the first century A.D. Burton knew that rumors of these lakes had been somewhat substantiated by vague reports from missionaries, and determined to find them by striking westward from the Zanazibar coast. It was an area wholly unexplored and unmapped by Europeans, but somewhat familiar to the slave-trading Arabs.
(see link at end)…THE EXPLORATION OF WHICH HAD BEEN ATTEMPTED IN VAIN
BY SOME THIRTY TRAVELLLERS.
RICHARD returned up the Red Sea to Egypt, and much enjoyed the rest and safety for a short time, and then returned to Bombay, his leave being up ; but the wandering fever was still upon him, and as the most difficult place for a white man to enter was Harar, in Somali-land, Abyssinia, he determined that that should be his object. It is inhabited by a very dangerous race to deal with, and no white man had ever penetrated to Harar. The first white man who went to Abyssinia was kept prisoner till he died. The East India Company had long wished to explore it, because Berberah, the chief port of Somali-land, is the safest and best harbour on the western side of the Indian Ocean far better than Aden. They went to work with that strange mixture of caution and generosity with which they treated those of their servants who stepped out of what Richard calls their ” quarter-deck” routine, that is, to let him go as a private trave
, and the Government to give him no protection, but would allow him to retain the same pay that he would enjoy whilst on leave. Dr. Carter and others refused to do more than to coast
along in a cruiser. Read More:http://archive.org/stream/lifeofcaptainsir01burtuoft/lifeofcaptainsir01burtuoft_djvu.txt
…”The joy of coming to a kraal was great, where the Chiefs of the village appeared, bringing soft speech, sweet water, new milk, fat sheep and goats, for a tobe of Cutch canvas. We passed a quiet, luxurious day of coffee and pipes, fresh cream and roasted mutton. After the great heats and dangers from horsemen on the plain, we enjoyed the cool breeze of the hills, cloudy skies, and the verdure of the glades which refreshed our beasts. Here I shot a few hawks, and was rewarded with loud exclamations of ( Allah preserve thy hand ! may thy skill never fail thee before the foe.’ A woman ran away from my steam kettle, thinking it was a weapon. They looked upon my sunburnt skin with a favour they denied to the lime-white face. The Somali Bedawi gradually affiliated me to their tribes.
” At one village the people rushed out, exclaiming, ‘ Lo ! let us look at the Kings ; : at others, * Come and see the white man ; he is the Governor of Zayla.’ My fairness (for, brown as I am, I am fair to them) and the Arab dress made me sometimes the ruler of Aden, the Chief of Zayla, the Haji’s son, a boy, an old woman, a man painted white, a warrior in silver armour, a merchant, a pilgrim, a head priest, Ahmed the Indian, a Turk, an Egyptian, a Frenchman, a Banyan, a Sherif,. and, lastly, a calamity sent down from heaven to weary out the lives of the Somal. Every kraal had its own conjecture. Read More:http://archive.org/stream/lifeofcaptainsir01burtuoft/lifeofcaptainsir01burtuoft_djvu.txt