This chapter reassesses Richard Burton's 1853 journey to Mecca and asks questions about the flexibility of identities in the Indian Ocean and Persianate worlds of the mid-nineteenth century. Often hailed or criticized by previous generations of scholars for his imperial vision and ability to pass as a “native,” Burton in fact struggled to establish a credible identity. Throughout his trip he was forced to change his assumed personae several times, always presenting himself as someone from Persia or its peripheries. Rather than foretell colonial dominance, Burton's journey underscores the tentative nature of European power. This article challenges critics' notions of mimesis and demonstrates the limits of imperial knowledge by reasserting the agency of those Burton encountered.

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