They are designed to help bereaved families mourn by keeping them company and raising some money for the burial.
But some attendees of disco matangas, also known as funeral night vigil, have been left mourning long after the burial of the departed.
Popularly known as disco (discotheque) matanga (funeral), the vigils involve dancing and partying at the bereaved family’s homestead, mostly at night. Their original purpose? To keep families company and raise funds for the burial.
The dances are popular at funerals, particularly in the larger Western part of Kenya, including Nyanza.
Relatives are often joined by neighbours and friends who light bonfires outside the house to keep them warm as music is played to entertain them.
This often lasts several days as burial arrangements are made. However, that is not all that happens at discomatangas.
Happy-go-lucky youths have turned them into a platform where all manner of orgies and social ills take place.
Teenagers have taken advantage of the events to engage in immoral activities, often with negative consequences.
The events usually attract teenagers from within and outside the mourning village, others having to walk tens of kilometres in the night to attend the events.
The results are unplanned and early pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases from sex orgies that happen after consumption of cheap alcohol and use of drugs.
For the uninitiated, during the fundraising tricks that happen in disco matangas, a man offers money to “buy a girl” to dance with.
The “highest bidder” gets an opportunity to dance with a girl of his choice. But that is not all.
The two can decide to “finish the business” elsewhere.
Fulfil their intimate acts
Many attendees end up engaging in unprotected sex, others abuse illicit alcohol while others smoke bhang and other hard drugs.
The wayward youths resort to the nearby bushes or friends’ houses to fulfil their intimate acts.
Another worrying act is the engagement of the teenagers in crime as some of the youths attending the night dances are usually armed with crude weapons such as machetes, axes, pangas and swords.
The weapons have in the past caused fights among the teenagers, sometimes ending up in the formation of groups for revenge.
They also break into people’s houses, shops or farms.
Mr Jackson Atenya, 23, from Nyaporo in Mumias says he works hard to get money for disco matangas.
“When you have money, all girls will want to dance with you and they won't reject your advances. That is how we end up hooking up with as many girls as possible in one night,” he confessed.
Apart from casual sex during the events, cases of defilement, rape and gang rape are also reported.
Mr Kennedy Kunani, a guiding and counselling teacher at Koyonzo Boys Secondary School in Matungu sub-county, says because many adolescents are engaging in unprotected sex in the events, the dances contribute to high HIV and Aids prevalence and teenage pregnancies.
The counsellor says many girls are left stranded.
“Drugs and alcohol reinforced by music facilitate unprotected sex in these occasions and has contributed to indiscipline cases among the teenagers,” he says, adding that urgent intervention is required from parents and funeral organisers.
Mr Kunani says some of the songs played during the events also drive sexual desires as they contain lewd lyrics.
He says gang rape cases are reported when boys ‘want to punish a girl they deem to be ‘arrogant’.
Food is in plenty
“One boy approaches her and takes her to a house and after having sex with her, he will alert the other guys and tell them to also have sex with her and then they chase her away,” he warns.
Mr Saleh Musiko, 81, says traditionally, those who gathered in the home of the deceased during the night vigils showed their close attachment with the bereaved family.
“It promoted unity in the villages because people attended the gathering so that they would also have company when calamity befell them,” recalled Mr Musiko.
In a typical Luhya funeral, food is in plenty to mourners meaning cows, goats and chicken are slaughtered to be served alongside ugali, rice and githeri, until the day of the burial.
“It was believed that plenty of food had to be cooked during funerals to allow mourners to eat the amount of food the deceased would have consumed if he or she was alive. Alcohol was also consumed in the night by those who kept vigil,” added Mr Musiko.
However, according to Mr Musiko, these practices of serving food are being shunned because of the hard economic times and the influence of religion and civilisation.
Despite the government ban on the night vigil dances, little has been done by those in authority to effect the directive.
Whereas county commissioners warn chiefs and their assistants who fail to implement the directive in their jurisdictions of dire consequences, music is still played openly in many villages in the Western region whenever there is a funeral.