The Secret Language Of Charapas County

by Captain Bill

Guest post by Eduardo O’Shee

Painting of an Iquitos street scene from memory by Eduardo O'Shee

During our dayly reunions in the Gringo Bar, Mike and I used to played guessing games and trade all kind of trivialities about history, movies, music, curiosities and tips from English and Spanish languages, especially when we both had to ask each other every now and then: “what did she say?, what does that mean?, how do you say this or that in Spanish (or English)?”, etc. I remember that sometimes we used to speak Cockney, the “secret language” of low-class Londoners he taught to me, as a way to keep the content of our chatting strictly between us, like when it turned private or risqué. Though it sounded quite bizarre in that environment, it actually worked very well. Then Mike told me that they, the local people had a “secret language” of their own too. “It sounds like pee-pee paw-paw”, I remember he said. A bell rang. That sound of jumping popcorn brought a vague remembrance from my childhood. And then, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Aura got into the Gringo Bar.

Mike asked her to say something in the “secret language”. Then she said something to him, I can’t remember what, and Mike, as expected, didn’t get a word and looked at me as if saying –“You see? That’s what I mean.” But I jumped into the dialogue and answered correctly to Aura, who got astonished and never used again the hermetic Charapa language in front of me.

Now,  although it sounds like a gobbledegook it’s an easyly breakable code. As aforementioned, they use it to impede people who don’t know how to speak it, understand the content of a private conversation, especially when they talk in front of children or foreigners, like us for instance. But all you have to do is to separate each word in syllables, each one followed by another that always begins with “p” and it’s followed by the same vowel of the first syllable. For example, the English word “fool” becomes “fool-poo”, you see?

Let’s suppose that Aura’s question to Mike was the following and expressed in Spanish:

‘Cópomopo tepe llapamaspa?’ (Cómo te llamas? What’s your name?)
So, I probably answered:
‘Yopo mepe llapamopo Edpe.’

She got really “surpe-prisedpee!”

To get the message you have to keep yourself focused only on the first syllables and pick it up from the rest to get a clean text. Let’s separate the words with obliques and syllables of the dialogue with dashes:

‘Có-po-mo-po/ te-pe / lla-pa-mas-pa?’

You have to have a good command of the language because there’s no space between full words, like in a Morse coded message, and you must get full words quickly. If the conversation is bilingual in English and Spanish, something so common in Iquitos, the mumbo jumbo turns a little more difficult to understand for strangers because they mingled both. But once you got it, it’s funny to practice.

In a way, it’s like the Paraguayan Guarani. Though strictly speaking it’s not a code language, when they want to fool you in the middle of a chatting, they switch from Spanish, English or whatever language you are speaking to Guarani, so you don’t get a word and by the way, they do it at every moment. Well, everybody does. When the tables got turned and Moors had to build Christian churches in Spain, they poked fun at their foremen and priests decorating archs and columns with praises in Arabic to the God of Islam.

In most South American countries the Charapa’s secret language is called, with small variations, “jerigonza” whose root I find slightly similar to that of the word “jargon”.

Anyway, even if you don’t get the words, “the pee-pee paw-paw” sound will make you notice that they are trying to fool you.

The Secret Language Of Charapas County

A guest post by Eduardo O’Shee

Hi, Bill Grimes here. If you enjoy the observations of Eduardo O’Shee, click these links for more;

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