Toba people

For other uses, see Toba (disambiguation).
Qom-art: a tatu carreta, sculpture in terracotta.

The Toba or Qom are an ethnic group in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are part of a larger group of indigenous inhabitants of the Gran Chaco region, called the Guaycurues. According to the 2010 census there are 126,967 Toba in Argentina, living in the provinces of Chaco, Formosa and Santa Fe.

The Toba name themselves Qom-lik, meaning simply "people". The name toba is of Guaraní origin and means "big forehead", which is also the name given to them by the first Spanish settlers (frentones). This is because the Toba cut their hair short in the front of the head as a sign of mourning.


The Chaco region in the north of Argentina and part of Paraguay was formerly covered with forests. The Toba were originally nomadic hunter-gatherers who, upon the arrival of the Spanish, adopted the horse and resisted colonial encroachment and the establishment of missions for several centuries.

In the 1880s the Argentine government began a campaign to occupy new territories, defeating the last organized attempts by the Toba to defend their lands. The Argentine Chaco was divided up in large portions and exploited, especially for the valuable quebracho tree, used for its tannin and its extremely durable timber. This devastated the ecosystem in a relatively short time. The private owners of the Chaco then turned to cotton production, employing the Toba as a cheap seasonal workforce; the conditions did not change substantially for decades.

On July 19, 1924, in Napalpí in the Chaco Province of Northern Argentina, 200 Tobas were massacred by the Argentine police and ranchers.[1]

Beginning in 1982, the region suffered unprecedented floods, which caused the crops to be ruined, and in the 1990s, mechanical harvesters imported from Brazil (at very low prices due to Argentina's low fixed exchange rate) left many Toba without jobs. The provincial government of Chaco resorted to offering a one-way ticket to the Toba willing to migrate south, into Santa Fe.

The majority of the Toba migrants settled in Rosario, which is a large city in the south of Santa Fe that had seen a previous wave of Toba in the 1950s and 1960s. Communication and family ties were kept in time, so the newcomers found a place; job opportunities and government assistance, even if scarce and of poor quality, were considerably more available in an urban setting than in Chaco. An estimated 10,000 Toba came to Rosario in the 1990s, and settled mostly in slums (villas miseria).

A peace pole in Toba.

A current threat to many Toba and other indigenous groups in El Chaco is the loss of their land and livelihood. Soy cultivation has accelerated deforestation. In a lot of cases this also means that the indigenous communities have lost their land to agrobusinesses and suffer under the intense use of fertilizers and pesticides that poison the water they depend on. Since 2008, many indigenous people have joined the "Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena" (National Movement of Indigenous Peasants) and fight for the legal right to their land and against agribusiness.[2]


The Toba language is a member of the Guaicuruan linguistic group. According to the United Nations, it has around 60,000 speakers, of which 15,000 to 20,000 live in Argentina.

In Rosario there are two peace poles with the message, "May peace prevail on Earth" written in the Toba language and in Guaraní, as well as Spanish and Italian (representing the local and European cultures that shaped and influenced the community). One of them is in Empalme Graneros, the neighborhood where the Toba immigrants from Chaco formed the largest community in the 1990s, and the other is located in a somewhat hidden spot near the coast of the Paraná River, a few hundred meters from the National Flag Memorial.


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