Rosa Grilo, a 115-year-old Qom woman who survived the Napalpí massacre, died today in Chaco province.
She was —as far as researchers know— the only remaining survivor from the 1924 Napalpí massacre, where hundreds of Qom and Moqoit Indigenous men, women, and children were killed by state forces and wealthy landowners.
In 1924, Napalpí was one of the four Indigenous “reductions,” geographic areas limited by the state to control Indigenous communities in the Chaco region. They worked under slavery conditions in cotton fields. They were not allowed to leave the area.
Following protests about their working conditions, the community was surrounded on the morning of July 19, 1924. A military airplane approached the area throwing candy and as children approached, bullets were fired.
“I was a kid, but not so little, that’s why I remember,” said Rosa Grilo in a 2018 testimony. “It was sad because my dad was murdered – this makes my heart ache. A plane threw bags into the land, and that’s when they were killed. I don’t know why they murdered so many kids, it caused huge pain.”
Rosa Grilo’s experience was unknown to the public until 2018 when Qom researcher Juan Chico met her and filmed her testimony. That footage was played during the Napalpí Massacre truth trials carried out last year in Chaco and Buenos Aires, where the judge ruled that the Napalpí Massacre had been a crime against humanity.
“The state attacked the communities in a previously organized plan,” Federal Judge Zunilda Niremperger said. “It was an organized extermination.”
Since the events happened so long ago, there were no detainees and nobody was convicted for their responsibility in the massacre. The judge ruled that the state had to implement a series of reparations including: educating the military on indigenous rights; creating a museum and site of memory in Napalpí; incorporating the massacre in the national history curriculum; and returning the remains used for the investigation to their descendants.
As part of recognizing the events and upholding a policy of remembrance, the truth trials were broadcast on national TV.
Marcelo Musante, a sociologist, and researcher who investigated the topic and testified in the Napalpí Trials, told the Herald that for many years the story of the massacre was only present in testimonies like Grilo’s.
“As the state denied it for so long, the massacre became invisible – but the testimonies from survivors and their families remained,” Musante said. “Why would they believe in what the elderly were saying?”
But many researchers, including himself, started to find evidence of the massacre through official government archives from that time.
“That’s when the state started to acknowledge the history again, and that’s when Rosa’s testimony appeared,” he said.
Musante highlighted that the stories of survivors, unknown to each other, matched Grilo’s.
“Her testimony joined a series of testimonies very precisely.”
Although Rosa Grilo was still alive when the state acknowledged the crimes against her community, she did not go to last year’s trial in person because of her advanced age.
Musante told the Herald that another consequence of the massacre is that the community was split — it’s extremely difficult to know if other survivors remain.