Conguitos: Spanish sweets with an out-of-date image

As those of you who regularly read this blog will know, I tend to blog mostly about African politics and current affairs, and less often about related issues such as inmigration, racism and discourses and perspectives about Africa – although I have done sometimes. And I will do today. The topic furthermore, is not in the news, but I just stopped to to think about it recently, and I think it is worth sharing it. I am talking about Conguitos. To those not familiar with Spain, and more specifically Spanish sweets, this will sound totally foreign. But all those of you who come from, or have visited Spain will know what I am talking about.

Conguitos are the Spanish version of M&Ms – that is chocolate-covered peanut snack. What is there to blog about you may ask? What is there to blog about furthermore, on a blog that deals with African politics? Well, as you have probably seen, the name Conguito bears an important resemblance to the name Congo – hinting at where the inspiration for the sweets came from. But the most revealing fact is the picture drawn at the front of each packet – the trademark of Conguitos – and one that every Spanish kid will immediately recognise it. Although the picture has evolved through the years, the character originally depicted was, undoubtedly, that of a black person, and judging by the name, probably a Congolese. These are some of the logos Conguitos has had over time:
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img
Note how the spear is gone!
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White chocolate (albino?) version
These pictures clearly portray and image of Africa and Africans, which is not suitable for the present day. This is why a few years back, María Frías, a university professor at the University of A Coruña, who is a specialist in Afroamerican literature, called for the logo to be changed given the “racist message it conveys, insulting the thousands of African migrants living in Spain (…) and which serves only to promote and perpetuate the negative estereoptypes associated with African people”. At the time of these criticisms, in 2003, the creator of the image said that if he was to draw it nowadays, it would obviously be different, and at the time Conguitos were first produced – in the early 1960s, the Congo had just become independent and was therefore fashionable, so they went for a more “exotic” look. I wasn’t aware of this controversy – I was not in Spain at the time – and I don’t know if these criticisms voiced by Professor Frías may have made the manufacturer change the logo – given that the current one does not have some of the features which made it so clearly stereotypical and racist (e.g. the thick red lips), and make it a more abstract (weird?) figure.
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Current conguito logo
In any case I just thought it would be interesting to share these thoughts for I think reveal something about Spanish attitude to Africa and Africans. What I found most interesting about all this, is that most people in Spain do not even stop for a second to think about the message Conguitos gives. It is just there, it has always been, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is only when someone tries to tell to people from other places (generally from countries more concerned with political correction, and where issues of racism have been there for longer) that one realises how awkward, out of date, and even plain racist these image are (this is what happen to my girlfriend when she tried to tell her British friends that these sweets were still on sale, not some Golliwog-like curiosity). Or, even more poignantly – as a friend told me, he experienced with two black friends came to visit him – when two black people enter a shop and ask for a packet of Conguitos. It is then,and only then, that the shop-keeper becomes aware of how inadequate the image on the packet is!
And, for your “entertainment”/ for its documentary value. I will leave you with a commercial for Conguitos – not a current one, but aired on the 70s, 80s? – which leaves no doubt regarding where Conguitos got their inspiration from.


Conguitos: Spanish sweets with an out-of-date image

18 thoughts on “Conguitos: Spanish sweets with an out-of-date image

  1. miquel marzo 3, 2010 / 11:52 am

    Ah, I was wondering when one of your Spaniards would touch upon this subject. They really are pushing the envelope a bit with the name and image. The song is also a kinda pathetic in how to hit the rhyme, they sing ‘cacahué’ instead of ‘cacahuetes’.

  2. lunatrix marzo 4, 2010 / 2:34 pm

    Good entry!! Now that you mention it, we could also talk about Cola Cao … “I am that little Negro / from tropical Africa / who while collecting sang / the Cola Cao Song”?!

    Weren’t you in Spain in the sixties?! Where were you then?? ;o)

  3. schauzeri marzo 4, 2010 / 4:51 pm

    @miquel – I agree, they’re pushing it…it’s time for a change!
    @lunatrix jajaja. I meant I wasn’t in Spain at the time of the controversy (2003): I was in Swaziland. As to where was I in the sixties, I think the answer is a bit trickier…
    And, regarding Cola-Cao, it’s so true! I have noticed that the image on the packet has changed from half-naked men carrying really heavy loads – http://fcom.us.es/blogs/OYGES4/files/2009/12/cola-cao-podero.jpg – to fully dressed women – http://www.zonalibre.org/blog/palo/archives/var/www/html/blog/palo/cola%20cao.bmp
    PS. I found a vinyl with the Cola-Cao song on a secon-hand shop and could not resist buying it!

  4. Felipe Cordero abril 2, 2010 / 9:03 pm

    Buen artículo. Como es común en casos como éstos, el mensaje subliminal no es identificado por las masas como discriminatorio, pero claramente lo es. Es probable que ni siquiera los dueños de la compañía o el diseñador del logo hayan tenido esa intención, pero claramente el lego refleja las actitudes sociales de la época. Es importante que ésto cambie y para eso se necesita crear conciencia….tu articulo hace eso. Saludos

  5. Antonio mayo 1, 2010 / 9:19 am

    It is completely nazi to be so politically correct. Conguitos are great, and nobody ever felt offended by them. Only stupid sociologists with nothing useful to do try to make a problem of this.

  6. Likk'mm abril 30, 2011 / 8:52 am

    Interesting article. However I agree, the reaction is overly PC.

    According to your history, the origin is associated with the indigenous people of the Congo. I presume they are still there and might still resemble this stereotype to some degree. That’s fine, that’s their way of life and nothing wrong with it. Actually it’s special, exotic and I’m sure a lot of people wish they could live so simplistically. But they have nothing to do with the blacks in Spain. The only reason non-Congolese should feel offended is if someone associates them with the people in the Congo, which is obviously unjustified. It’s the viewer’s attitude that should be changed, not the logo with some historical justification and significance. Racism as a weapon is definitely stupid and bad, but differences between the peoples of this world do exist, give it character and are part of the magic of traveling.

    Next thing all fish advocates will be offended if an advertising campaign uses a whale which implicitly categorizes all fish as fat!

  7. Ximo agosto 10, 2011 / 11:58 am

    Maybe we do not care so much being PC because we did not lynched blacks for sport.

    • Dash (@InADash) enero 30, 2014 / 4:15 pm

      Guess you never heard of the spanish inquisition right? ….but going to various African countries, kidnapping, transporting to the Americas and enslaving and murdering them in these “spanish colonies” for hundreds of years is much better?

  8. Eric octubre 13, 2011 / 4:38 pm

    Estoy en casi todo de acuerdo con lo que dice el autor en su articulo, lo unico que tendria que decir, como persona que disfruto’ como ninio peque que era, de los Conguitos y su publicidad (la cancion era muy popular en el playground de aquellos dias) es que, a pesar de estar basada en estereotipos y incluso para los 90, ser una imagen realmente trasnochada, mayormente fue una cosa bastante inocente y neutra, con la unica intencion de que los peques (yo y muchos millones mas) nos atiborraramos de deliciosos ”Conguitos”, que para mi gusto, le dan 20 patadas a los M&M’s….

  9. Miguel enero 12, 2012 / 11:25 am

    I would like to point out that as a Spanish person, I find the implication that “What I found most interesting about all this, is that most people in Spain do not even stop for a second to think about the message Conguitos gives. It is just there, it has always been, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is only when someone tries to tell to people from other places” to be quite erroneous. I have always found the logo and iconography associated with this product to be quite disturbing and offensive. Please don’t paint us all with the same brush, that would be stereotyping the Spanish people….

  10. LS enero 19, 2012 / 9:34 pm

    This is a massive over exaggeration – the Conguitos are an integral part of Spanish culture and heritage, and the racial stereotyping at the roots of the image is unlikley to actual incite any real racism.

  11. Sean septiembre 22, 2012 / 5:08 pm

    Pure PC crap, so a black person with a spear on the packaging means that’s what you think of present day Africans right? But if you have a white person as a caveman in it that’d be ok… If you’re not white and you dress up as somebody white with say a blonde wig it’s perfectly ok, but if you’re white and blacken your face to dress up like say Michael Jordan or John Coltrane… then that’s racist! That attitude puts whites on level above the rest mate.

  12. Richard junio 26, 2015 / 9:04 pm

    WHO CARES??? Only liberal whites, that’s who. Never heard any Africans in Spain complain about this – they think it’s funny or don’t even notice.

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