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Explained: The original intentions of disco matangas

For some of you, dear readers, the nearest you have come to witnessing a disco matanga is through viral user-generated videos and skits online. For others, they may have probably had the opportunity to attend such funeral vigils. You’ve seen the heavy drinking and smoking, the suggestive dancing between intoxicated men and women, local bouncers controlling who gets to dance with certain tantalising women for certain prices, others dramatically mourning and wailing the deceased in one corner while some are seated in barazas– talking and silently mourning with the family while others gossip the deceased.

Welcome to an ordinary scene of a disco matanga– a ‘traditional’ funeral rite where some Kenyan families and neighbours gather in the village home of a deceased person to hold a vigil and celebrate the life of the departed; and mourn with the family at the same time.

However, over the years, disco matangas evolved into parties and merry-making events, often at the expense of the bereaved family. Rarely will you see these neighbours taking a moment to condole with the family on the night of the disco matanga but will show up out of the blue, pull up a chair at the nearest beer pot or crate and make merry until dawn. And when they’ve had their fill of alcohol, dancing and flirting around (and sometimes getting into amorous activities on the family’s maize farm), they will saunter their way back to their homes in the freezing morning wind, no matter the distance.

Out of these disco vigils, various addictions have been reported to sprout and the degradation of morals among young people. It has been the reason some counties in in the coastal region at one point banned disco matangas due to increased teenage pregnancies and school dropouts as well as criminal activities.

Disco matangas, historically, had its original intentions but the plot was lost somewhere along the road to the burial site. Nairobi News now looks at the history of disco matangas to understand what their true purpose and procedures are; and their significance to communities that practice it.

Speaking to Elder John Juma from Siwongo Village in Funyula, Busia County, the funeral events were originally organised to get the community to help the family raise funds to meet all the funeral costs as well as aid the family financially where they could not meet their needs occasioned by the loss of their loved one.

“Of course, there are positive and negative aspects to holding disco matangas. You must remember that discos are not just for the family, they are for the community. In the past, the original intention was for funds to be raised and all arrangements were made by the community youth. They were the ones who went to the area Chief to get all the approvals needed, they would find sources of music- either a record player or people to play guitars and drums the entire night as the harambee is carried out. The village neighbours are the ones who sit and suggest what should be done. This also brings about good neighbourhood because they are the ones who stand with the family when others go back home.,” began Elder Juma.

He went on, “…but lately, these disco have been turned into events where youth are encouraged to have poor morals. They enjoy raha za usiku uninhibited. You will now find the youth’s principles are thrown out the window. Young people will drink and get drunk, you will see them fighting, young women throwing themselves at men and at the end of the day, there is disagreement in the community. You find that marriages are broken because spouses misbehaved at the disco.”