Did you know? Kenya's first private doctor visited patients on a Zebra

Dr Ribiero making rounds in Nairobi on a zebra in 1906   Photo:Courtesy

Nairobi’s Parklands High School was founded in 1928 as Dr Ribeiro Goan School.

It changed to Parklands Boys during ‘Africanisation’ of names two years after independence in 1963.

It reverted to Dr Ribeiro Parklands School, minus the ‘Goan,’ in January 2015. The school stands in honour of Dr Rosendo Ayres Ribeiro, a pioneer Kenyan Goan who came down these shores from India at the prodding of Imperial British East Africa (IBEA) company, which was running Kenya on behalf of the British empire.

Goans were Christians, had partial Portuguese ancestry (and citizenship) and were accorded non-Indian status here as businessmen, lawyers and doctors, Cynthia Salvadori notes in her 1989 offering, Through Open Doors: A view of Asian Cultures in Kenya.

Did you know that when he came here from India in 1899, Dr Ribeiro became Kenya’s first private medical doctor? Never mind he was operating under a tent in the muddy tin shack that was Nairobi where he invented a malaria drug which was patented and sold to an international pharmaceutical firm. Funny how malaria is still Kenya’s number one killer, don’t you think?

Having no cars then, and horses being susceptible to equine fever common to tropical climates, Dr Ribeiro had no qualms visiting his patients atop a tamed zebra bought in 1907! Indeed, Chapman zebras at the time were cross-bred with horses to breed fever-resistant mules.

Dr Ribeiro would ‘park’ and tether his zebra to a post outside the Goan Institute which he helped found along Juja Road, Nairobi.

The one-time Vice Consul of Portugal in Kenya  sold his zebra for 800 Rupees (Sh1,200 at current exchange rates) to an Indian zoo decades later. He acquired an American, black stretch limo - the few in the city - and in which he was chauffeured with his wife, Margarida, to St Francis Xavier Church in Parklands for mass.

St Francis Xavier Church and the Goan Gymkhana along Ngara Road were among the social facilities the Goan community erected to cater for their needs in racially segregated Kenya where odieros and muhindis had their own.

To integrate Goans in education, Dr Ribeiro donated the land where the school named after him stands in Parklands. For his social services, the colonial government gave him 16 acres (and later the Order of the British Empire or OBE in short), after his surgery practice at the Indian Bazaar (present day Biashara Street) was gutted down in a bid to rid Nairobi of bubonic plague which he had diagnosed. He sold a parcel of the land to Julius Campos, another Goan pioneer and for whom Nairobi’s Campos Ribeiro Avenue is named.

It wasn’t until 1939 that Dr Jason Clement Likimani graduated with a diploma and degree in medicine and surgery from Uganda’s Makerere University and Gray’s College London respectively to become the first Kenyan African doctor!

Death comes to all men as it did to 80-year-old Dr Ribeiro in 1951 in  London.

Over 100 years since Dr Ribeiro pitched tent, Kenya still has 14 doctors per 100,000 people according to the World Health Organisation.



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