Very brief ethnohistorical overview


The Toba and the Wichí belong to the Guaycurúan linguistic family.  All Gran Chaco indigenous groups share similar subsistence economies despite considerable language variation.  These groups were traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, practicing occasional horticulture (Braunstein and Miller, 1999; Mendoza and Wright, 1989).  Division of labor was manifest among the Toba (Karsten, 1967).  Female gathering played a major role, complementing the almost exclusively male activities of hunting, fishing, and honey collecting (Gordillo, 1995).  The Toba organized themselves in bands composed of groups of extended families.  Traditional leadership was limited to extended family heads (Miller, 1980). Monogamy has been the main mating pattern. 

         The Gran Chaco Indians successfully resisted Spanish colonization and Argentine expansion policies, until the late 1800’s.  Until the 1930’s most communities still relied on foraging for their subsistence.  During the last century, disruptions to their traditional lifestyle and ecological deterioration of the habitat forced many communities to migrate to urban centers and become sedentarized.  At present, indigenous communities in the Gran Chaco fall along an acculturation continuum ranging from the more traditional, living in rural, isolated areas to the more Westernized communities, living in the periphery of most non-indigenous towns in the Gran Chaco and in the cities of Rosario and Buenos Aires (Miller, 1999). 

    For an excellent introduction to the indigenous communities of the South American Gran Chaco, read "The People of the Gran Chaco", edited by Elmer S. Miller (1999). 


Braunstein J, and Miller E (1999) Ethnohistorical Introduction. In E Miller (ed.): Peoples of the Gran Chaco. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Gordillo G (1995) La subordinación y sus mediaciones: Dinámica cazadora-recolectora, relaciones de producción, capital comercial y estado entre los Tobas del oeste de Formosa. In H Trinchero (ed.): Producción doméstica y capital: estudios desde la antropología económica. Buenos Aires: Biblos.

Karsten R (1967) The Toba Indians of the Bolivian Gran Chaco. Oosterhout N.B.: Anthropological Publications.

Mendoza M, and Wright PG (1989) Sociocultural and economic elements of the adaptation systems of the Argentine Toba: the Nacilamolek and Taksek cases of Formosa Province. In SJ Shennan (ed.): Archeological Approaches to Cultural Identity. Massachusetts: Unwin Human Ltd., pp. 242-257.

Miller E, ed. (1999) Peoples of the Gran Chaco. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

GranChaco Tribes