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The Napalpí massacre occurred on July 19, 1924, in Napalpí in the Chaco Province of Northeast Argentina. It involved the massacre of 400 indigenous people of the Toba ethnicity by the Argentine Police and ranchers.
Forty years earlier, the Argentine Army had been involved in a military campaign to subjugate the indigenous people, mostly Guaycuru of several different ethnic groups, of the Argentine Chaco called the Conquest of Chaco. The campaign resulted in the death of thousands of indigenous people, the displacement of many more, and the social and cultural destruction of numerous ethnic groups from the provinces of Chaco and Formosa.
The Argentine forces established a line of fortresses in order to usurp the indigenous territories for European settlers. The land was mainly used by the settlers to grow cotton. The native people were confined in compounds, where they were subjected to a regime of exploitation bordering on slavery. One of the compounds was Napalpí, which means cemetery in the Toba Qom language. Its official name was Colonia Aborigen Chaco" (Chaco Aboriginal Colony). It was founded in 1911. The first families installed there were Pilagá, Abipón, Toba, Charrúa and Mocoví.
The inhabitants of Napalpí had started to produce cotton, but in 1924 the Argentine authorities imposed a tax of 15% of the cotton crop which created great discontent and a strike.
In retaliation for this, groups of indigenous people started killing animals and damaging the crops of the European settlers. In June 1924, a shaman named Sorai was killed by the police; later a French settler was killed, probably in an act of vengeance. After this incident Fernando Centeno, the Governor of Chaco, prepared a ferocious and brutal repression of the indigenous people.
Early in the morning of July 19, 1924, a group of 130 men (police, ranchers and white citizens), armed with Winchester and Mauser rifles, attacked the indigenous people who only had spears to defend themselves. The attack lasted 40 minutes. At the end, the wounded, including women and children, were killed with machetes.
At the end of the 1920s the journal Heraldo del Norte stated that:
In the book Memorias del Gran Chaco, by historian Mercedes Silva, an account by a mocoví, Pedro Maidana, stated that "they killed in a savage manner, they cut off the testicles and an ear to exhibit as trophies of the battle".
In the book Napalpí, la herida abierta (Napalpí, the open wound) the journalist Mario Vidal wrote:
A recent documentary by "la Red de Comunicación Indígena" (the network of Indigenous Communication) stated:
In the same transmission the chief Toba, Esteban Moreno, told the story that had been passed down the generations.
Over 80 years after the Napalpí massacre, nobody has been punished or found guilty, the crime remains unpunished and the few lands that remain in aboriginal ownership are being continually encroached.