Toba (people)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Toba on the Río Pilcomayo (1892)

The Toba are a population group in South America . They are the most important ethnic group of the Guaycurú Indians , a larger group of indigenous inhabitants of the Gran Chaco region .

In the 16th century, the Toba populated large parts of the Chaco Central and the Chaco Austral. Today (January 2006) there are important Toba settlements in Bolivia , in the east of Tarija and in Argentina , in the east of the Formosa province , in the center and east of the Chaco province and in the north of the Santa Fe province . According to statistics from 2005, 47,951 Toba live in Argentina.

The Toba ethnic group is called ntokóit in their national language . The Toba call themselves kom or qom ("people"). Their language is called qomlek or kom'lik ; Due to the different spellings of indigenous names, there are numerous ways of writing these words.

Typical of the Toba is a tall appearance and an elongated skull shape. The name Toba is Guaraní and means "forehead". It is due to the Toba habit of cutting off the hair on the front part of the head as a signal of sadness or lament. For the same reason they were called "frentones" by the Spanish immigrants.

From a linguistic point of view, the language of Toba can be assigned to the group of Guaicuru languages .


During the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, the ntokóit lived mainly in the regions of the Gran Chaco , where today the province of Salta in northwest Argentina and the department of Tarija in southern Bolivia are located. From there they spread to the banks of the Río Bermejo and in smaller numbers on the Río Pilcomayo .

The greater population growth of the Wichí and the resulting demographic pressure caused the Toba to migrate eastwards, where most of them live today.

The presence of the Spanish went hand in hand with great changes for the Toba. On the one hand, they encountered a new and powerful enemy, on the other hand, the Spaniards also made a major indirect contribution to the Toba culture: in the 17th century they began to use horses and soon formed a powerful horse-based culture in the center and south of the Gran Chaco, the Chaco Gualamba.

The Toba were one of the peoples most likely to resist the influence of the Spanish conquerors in the Gran Chaco region. For several centuries they were spared from colonization. In the 1880s, however, the living conditions of the Toba changed abruptly when the Argentine government launched a campaign to conquer new territory by means of military attacks by the indigenous population. The last military defense attempts of the Toba were put down by the Argentine army in 1919 in Napalpi in the province of Chaco. The Chaco was divided into large estates and exploited to the limit , especially because of the quebracho tree, which is very valuable due to its tannin and extremely hard wood. The ecosystem was destroyed within a short time. The private owners of the Chaco later turned to cotton production, obliging the Toba to do forced labor on the plantations. For several decades the living conditions of the Toba hardly improved.

From 1982 the region was hit by numerous, previously unknown floods, which completely destroyed the harvests. Mechanical harvesting machines were first imported from Brazil in the 1990s, so that the Toba were no longer needed as labor and lost their jobs en masse. It was then that the Chaco Province government paid those Toba willing to move south a one-way ticket to Santa Fe Province. The majority settled in Rosario , a large city in the south of Santa Fe, which took in numerous Toba migrants in the 50s and 60s. Relationships with the family were maintained over time so that new settlers could find a place to stay. Jobs and government support were more likely in the cities than in the provinces, even if they were scarce and poor. An estimated 10,000 Toba came to Rosario in the 1990s. The majority were forced to settle in the “villas miseria”, the city's slums.

Gran Rosario continues to experience large immigration flows (cf. the Barrio Toba de Rosario settlement, as well as the northeast of the province of Santiago del Estero ). Another settlement called Barrio Toba (La Plata) is located in the Partido de La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires .


The Toba way of life was originally tailored to their customs and traditions. They lived in thatched wooden houses, the living space was only a few square meters. They produced ceramics, wicker products and textiles for their own use.

During the warm season, they hardly wore any clothes, only a loincloth. They had more clothes for the colder months. It was also particularly important as jewelry, especially to celebrate rituals. For this they wore so-called potos , clothes made from fibers of the caraguata plant (a bromeliad or pineapple plant), leather and - after the invasion of the Spaniards - cotton. In winter they also protected themselves with ponchos . Adult men wore the so-called opaga , a head protection made with feathers and fibers from the caraguata plant. Women and men adorned themselves with onguaghachik , which are bracelets that originally consist of teeth, animal claws, seeds, feathers, shells, snails, etc. In order to get these materials, the Toba apparently bartered with other peoples.

There are also necklaces, so-called colaq , which are very similar to bracelets. The nallaghachik are very festive, colorful pieces of jewelry that are decorated with feathers, flowers and leaves.

Until the 14th century, the Toba were primarily a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer people . There was a strict gender segregation with regard to work: the men - mostly still very young - went hunting and fishing, while the women gathered fruit and practiced primitive agriculture. For example, they cultivated nachitek (pumpkins), oltañi ( corn ), avagha ( beans ), sweet potatoes , cassava etc. These fruits were only a supplement to their diet, so it would not be correct to say that the Toba were farming in the region at the time operated in a narrower sense. The amount of products grown was simply too small for that. This apparent backwardness is justified by the climate and soil conditions, which could not bring enough yield for arable farming. In the original, non-cultivated state, however, numerous edible, especially very protein-rich fruits grew on the territory of the Gran Chaco. The qom mainly hunted tapirs , fish, deer, guanacos and - in large numbers - poultry. In addition, they collected honey, lots of fruits, berries and roots.

The Toba lived from hunting, fishing and agriculture, but also from looting and theft. They also had slaves. Some of their ancestors lived from cannibalism.

Together with the Abipón , the Toba were one of the first South American equestrian cultures in the late 16th century, which differed from the other indigenous people. The habitat of the Toba consisted mainly of forest. That's why they developed into skilled riders. To protect themselves from branches, but above all from attacks by pumas and jaguars who wanted to attack from trees, they wore a leather headgear that was very well attached to the body.

With the adoption of the horse, the Toba were able to expand their raids. Among other things, they crossed the Rio Paraguay and attacked the settlements that lived in today's Paraguay on the left bank of the river. In addition, they were able to penetrate as far as the Chaco Austral and organize raids in the northwest of the Llanura pampeana region (cf. the Malón strategy). From their horses, armed with bows and arrows, they hunted not only native animals, but also cattle of European origin.


The belief system of the Toba can be assigned to the animistic religions. The Toba believe in the soulfulness of all nature and in a supreme deity. Although the Toba only communicated with the rest of the world via oral tradition until the 20th century, their belief system is significantly influenced by Christianity , especially by the Pentecostal movement ( Pentecostalism ). Many of their necromancers became Pentecostal pastors .

Nevertheless, even today many Toba still turn to their medicine men or pio'oxonak as therapists and healers.

Before the Toba recognized Christianity, killing newborn children was a common practice to meet the shortages of food to which they were typically exposed. In contrast, children who survived were raised with particular devotion and affection.

Situation since 2000

Félix Díaz, cazike of Toba and human rights activist

“We are poor, but we always share. This is our custom. If we have fish, we share it with our neighbors. This is the old people's custom. The whites are rich, but they are stingy: they don't even share with their siblings. It's because they're rich. It's not our way. "

- Pedro Martinez Nalijé, Toba

According to the census of the Argentine Statistics Office ( INDEC ) in 2001, around 60,000 Argentines consider themselves “qom”. The majority of them live in the province of Chaco.

About half of them still live in local communities in their original territories; Subgroups with their own names such as Pilagá, Nachilamolek, Mocovi or Mbayá-Caduveo. They live in rural communities and community associations, sometimes with superiors (“caciques”) who are democratically elected by the community. Today you work predominantly in a market economy-oriented manner, including as farmers, especially in cotton cultivation. They also operate various crafts: ceramics, wood processing ("Guayacán") and textile processing ("Caraguatá"). The traditional subsistence hunt is becoming more and more difficult as the landscape is overgrazed by the herds of cattle of the white " criollos " and overgrown with bushes.

Only around 1,500 Nachilamolek from the northwest of Formosa on the border with Paraguay still obtain 50 to 70 percent of their food in an extractive way in the marshes of the Río Pilcomayo . The men’s fishing with spears, nylon lines and small nets and the collecting of wild fruits by the women ( Prosopis blanco legumes, Ziziphus mistol stone fruits, Capparis speciola capers, etc.) play the most important role . More Subsistenztätigkeiten of men are the honey gathering and hunting capybaras , Tapeti rabbits, Red Brocket -Hirsche, rheas and numerous bird species. They use shotguns, rifles and hunting dogs to do this today. For further self-sufficiency there are watermelons , giant pumpkins , sugar melons and a little corn , which are grown on fields of one to two hectares without technical aids. The rest of the livelihood is earned through cash crops that are grown on the edge of the marshland, herding goats and sheep, the production of small goods and handicrafts, the sale of hunted hides of the Goldteju lizard and domestic animals, and seasonal harvest workers .

Many Toba have been forced to relocate to cities since the second half of the 20th century, particularly due to the high birth rates that made them medium poor in rural areas. The majority of them have settled in Roque Sáenz Peña, Resistencia , Gran Santa Fe , Gran Rosario and Gran Buenos Aires , where they live almost exclusively in the poorest neighborhoods.

The Toba are the largest surviving indigenous group in Latin America. With their caste system, they maintain a thousand-year-old socio-political order.

See also

Web links

Commons : Toba  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Gaston Gordillo: Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco . Duke University Press, Durham, 2004, ISBN 0822333805 ( half-linen ), ISBN 0822333910 (paperback) (English)
  • Gaston Gordillo: Nosotros vamos a estar acá para siempre: historias tobas . Biblos, Buenos Aires, 2005, ISBN 9507864539 (Spanish)
  • Elmer S. Miller: Los tobas argentinos: armonía y disonancia en una sociedad . Siglo veintiuno, Mexico City, 1979 (Spanish)
  • Johannes Wilbert (Ed.): Encyclopaedia of World Cultures , Volume 7: South America . Washington. (English)
  • Ute Paul, Frank Paul (Ed.): Accompanying instead of conquering. Missionaries as guests in Chaco, northern Argentina . Neufeld Verlag , Schwarzenfeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-937896-95-3 .

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Richard B. Lee and Richard Daly (Eds.): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. 4th edition, Cambridge University Press, New York 2010 (first printed 1999), ISBN 978-0-521-60919-7 . Pp. 110-113, citation p. 112.