Conguitos and its colonial origins

According to the people involved in the creation of "Conguitos" it is the media resonance caused by "the independence of the Belgian Congo" in 1960 that will be the inspiration for the product.

The political inspiration

In the 1950s, the people of the Congo consolidated their demands for independence from the colonial power that Belgium had been exerting since 1885. In the context of the postwar era and under the pressure of UN declarations, Belgium proposes a plan where the Congo would accede to independence between 1980 and 2000. This is unacceptable. The independence of the French colonies motivates the cause of independence further. On June 30, 1960, the people of the Congo declared themselves officially a democratic republic with representatives elected by the Congolese people. This declaration is followed by a crisis that is in fueled by the desire of the Belgians to keep the colonial order intact without the Congolese gaining access to positions of power. Furthermore, the differences between political initiatives are intervened. Congolese allies for mineral exploitation are supported with weapons and militias, while elected democratic leaders are undermined with absent responses from the U.N. forces in the area. This is followed by Belgian military intervention (with U.S. CIA support) to destabilize the new anti-colonial and pro-independence leaders. At the core, the clear threat was the loss of the lucrative extraction of minerals and the potential that the profits of this endeavor would be nationalized and finally inverted in the Congo itself. In 1960 these circumstances are not known to such detail but foreign intervention is suspected and denounced.

Regardless on the 13 February 1960 the newspapers are talking about the murder of the primer minister Patrice Lumumba. As people learn of Lumumba's murder, worldwide protests ensue.






The execution provokes international outrage. There were protests and demonstrations in front of the various Belgian embassies in Cairo, Belgrade, London, New Delhi, New York, and the buildings are attacked with stones and set on fire.

Spanish political context in 1960

The world is geopolitically divided according to the perspective of the colonial powers in: free world countries, communist countries and neutral countries. In Spain, the fascist dictatorship of Franco ruled since 1939 until 1975. In 1959, U.S. president Eisenhower visits Franco in what is read as a sign of acceptance of Franco's government, as an ally against the communist cause.

Creation of a Spanish sweet

The owner of the Fedimar factory in Zaragoza came with the idea of  chocolate-coated peanut sweets after seeing it in South America (see interview to Juan Tudela). José Luis Izaguerri came up with the name "Conguitos" and the Murcian publicist, Juan Tudela Férez, was commissioned to create the logo, a mascot, and the packaging for the product. Tudela is the creator of the original design with the legally inscribed "three africans" which was left behind to be replaced by the "mascot" with big rounds eyes and red lips.

An Ad references the disappearance of Lumumba

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7xx011coJk
A TV commercial from the 80s shows a group of Conguitos following their leader. The leader seeks to organize them into a military line. As they march, a white hand intervenes and picks up his militants, one by one. When the leader turns around he sees no one behind him, his militants have been disappeared. He calls them by name. Here the company uses a mock "African" language through which the leader exclaims Lumumba or Lamumba, (known then to have been kidnapped and killed). Knowing the events of the Congo crisis, it is difficult to not read the story referring literally to what happened in the crisis. People who sought to organize themselves but whose leaders were disappeared with the help of external intervention.

How the Conguitos are depicted

The conguitos are portrayed as a 'mascot' based on the European colonial fantasy of "the African tribe": They live in straw huts, are small as children and have round, bulging bellies, they wear no clothes and carry in their slender arms, a bracelet and a spear. In the following years, the product's advertising campaigns evoke and reinforce an imaginary about edible beings whose plans are caricatured and whose only purpose is to be eaten.

The creation of this product reveals a paternalistic colonial view that seeks to present the "Conguitos" as a comic pre-modern, uncivilized simile. A colonial fantasy opposed to the political subjects that fought for a process of independence that was constantly undermined by the external intervention of Belgium (with the support of the U.S,) that fundamentally sought to put in power someone who would allow them to continue exploiting the minerals of the Congo as they had been doing since the 1910s.



Absence of Empathy

One of the many things that draws my attention to the case of "Conguitos" is the empathy gap that exists with the Congolese cause. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese were killed in a just cause and those were the news reported. From these circumstances what came to the creatives was to make comic figures out of the Congolese.

It is as if, after hearing the news of the civil rights uproar in the U.S. in the 1960s, which ended with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Black Panther leaders, that these news would inspire them to portray the civil right protesters (connected to the current demands of the Black Lives Matter movement) with comic figures made of edible chocolate. It is simply an enormous gap.





 

 




James Baldwin in 1965: "It is only since the Second World War that there’s been a counter-image (of the Black) in the world. And that image did not come about through any legislation or part of any American government, but through the fact that Africa was suddenly on the stage of the world, and Africans had to be dealt with in a way they’d never been dealt with before. This gave an American Negro for the first time a sense of himself beyond the savage or a clown. It has created and will create a great many conundrums. One of the great things that the white world does not know, but I think I do know, is that Black people are just like everybody else. One has used the myth of Negro and the myth of color to pretend and to assume that you were dealing with, essentially, with something exotic, bizarre, and practically, according to human laws, unknown. Alas, it is not true. We’re also mercenaries, dictators, murderers, liars. We are human too."




Sources in Spanish

Sobre la relación colonial entre Bélgica y el Congo: https://www.imaynacaceres.com/2013/12/belgica-y-el-congo.html

Entrevista en video a Juan Tudela Feréz 2015 min. 9'39''
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWvW3_vBFms

https://www.elperiodicodearagon.com/noticias/aragon/juan-tudela-ferez-hoy-no-habria-dibujado-asi_44262.html

https://www.elperiodicomediterraneo.com/noticias/sociedad/la-rebelion-del-conguito-_40236.html

https://books.google.at/books?id=HQy6oe86j6gC

Timeline

1960 Congo Crisis

1961 Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba is disappeared and executed. Worldwide there are protests against Belgium for the murder of Lumumba. In this era, the world is geopolitically divided in the perspective of the colonial powers in: free world countries, communist countries and neutral countries. In Spain, the fascist dictatorship of Franco has ruled since 1939. In 1959 Eisenhower visits Franco in what is read as a sign of acceptance of Franco's government, as an ally against the communist cause.

1961 Fedimar, a candy company in Zaragoza, seeks to produce a chocolate-coated peanut product after seeing it in South America as reported by the original designer, Juan Tudela. Both peanuts and chocolate are native to America.

1961 The design of the image of the "conguito" is by the Murcian Juan Tudela, advertising and painter, who would charge 9,500 pesetas at the time for this and for the name itself which came from the war of independence being fought at that time in the Belgian Congo.

1963 Federico Diaz Martinez registers "Conguitos" on March 25, 1963 in the Industrial Property Registry.

1966 A similar product is launched under the name Chimpancitos. Fedimar denounces imitation of the brand. The judge decreed "crime of industrial property infringement" and sentenced a month and a day of arrest and a fine of ten thousand pesetas. Chimpancitos resorted to a new trial and was acquitted. The court declared: "The certificate - entitled "Conguitos" - from the Industrial Property Registry, describes the graphic of three Africans without reference to color or packaging, and the sentence appealed against says precisely that the latter was registered, so it makes a mistake and has to be changed".

1974 Conguitos S.A. Fedimar goes bankrupt due to the success of Conguitos, as it does not have the production capacity or the necessary technology. Fedimar's board of creditors floats the brand, creating a company called Conguitos S.A. (30.10.74) chaired by Francisco de Miguel, owner of the advertising company.

1983 The cartoon campaign is carried out by the advertising agency Mapp.

1987 Lacasa acquires Conguitos.

2019 Bernardo Silva launches a tweet comparing his partner Benjamin Mendy with a Conguito. Twitter denounces racism and Pep Guardiola declares "(Silva) speaks four or five languages - it's the best way to understand how open-minded he is - and one of his best friends is Mendy. He's like a brother to him. The image for both of them is not about skin color. He took a picture of Benjamin when he was young and connected it to this cartoon, which is quite similar to the image."

2020 Conguitos is exported, according to Lacasa, "to Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, Argentina... and even Japan!"