For Colombia`s Wiwa, revered lightning takes deadly toll

 Deep in northern Colombia`s mountains, an isolated community of indigenous Wiwa people struggled Tuesday to comprehend why 11 of their own were struck dead by a bolt of lightning during a tribal ceremony.

Bogota: Deep in northern Colombia`s mountains, an isolated community of indigenous Wiwa people struggled Tuesday to comprehend why 11 of their own were struck dead by a bolt of lightning during a tribal ceremony.

"We`re trying to recover our spirits, because this was a big shock to our community. That nature would treat us this way -- we are in mourning," Lorenzo Gil, a Wiwa member told AFP.

Lightning is both feared and revered by the Wiwa, who see spiritual significance in all aspects of nature and believe they are called to keep the world in balance.

Gil saw Monday`s devastating event as "a response to man`s turning his back on nature."

"But we are perhaps the ones who are most concerned about the balance between man and nature, and if this has happened it is because the world has done nothing to support us," he said.

The lighting struck as Wiwa men from a village of about sixty families in the Sierra Nevada mountains were gathered together in a hut for a ceremony from which women and children were barred.

"I was thirsty and I left to drink. In the middle of the downpour I arrived at my house, when I heard the clap of thunder," Bernardo Gil, one of sixty men in attendance, told El Tiempo newspaper.

"Two minutes later, when I came back, the hut was on fire. You could only hear men screaming."

An additional 15 people were injured by the lightning, which shattered the tribe`s peaceful existence -- lives punctuated by ritual, song and meditation.

The wounded, many of whom suffered second- and third-degree burns, were evacuated by helicopter from the remote village and taken to a hospital in the Caribbean town of Santa Marta, a five-hour drive away.Ana Gil, a Wiwa nurse at the hospital, told Colombia`s Caracol Radio that all were "in stable condition," with four still needing surgery and six slated to leave as soon as Tuesday.

"Most had burns on their backs, hips and legs," she said, adding that she had "never experienced anything so traumatizing."

The bodies have since been identified by police and judicial authorities, and will be buried in the area according to Wiwa tradition.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos expressed the country`s "condolences and solidarity" with the Wiwa people, adding that he had "given instruction to sort out the situation as quickly as possible" in the village.

High temperatures coupled with a tropical wave of relatively low air pressure can create clouds such as those that formed Monday "with a large amount of positive and negative energy," Cristian Euscategui, a state meteorologist, told AFP.

The collision of such clouds produce "electric shocks" he said.

Although seldom deadly, lightning storms are common in parts of Colombia.

There are about 1.5 million indigenous people in Colombia -- which has a total population of 48 million. But most Colombians are from a mix of the country`s main groups: indigenous, European and African descent.

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