We Robot

Published May 14, 2021, 4:16 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Celebrating the centennial of the word robot through the translation of the Czech classic R.U.R. in Filipino

PROPHETIC The front cover of Robot Unibersal ni Rossum (R.U.R.) by Karel Čapek, in Filipino. Illustrations by John Sherwin Acampado. Book design by Ryan Cuatrona

In an era defined by fast-moving digital transformations and technological innovations, little did everyone know that a hundred years ago, a Czech playwright named Karel Čapek had a prophetic vision of a sub-human life capable of performing the work of humans. He called it robot.

To commemorate the centennial of the world robot, the Czech Embassy in Manila in cooperation with Ateneo de Naga University Press has issued the translation of R.U.R., a drama by Karel Čapek in Filipino, where the world robot was used for the first time.

The word robot was first used in Čapek’s play Rossumovi Universal ni Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), popularly known by its acronym R.U.R. It was staged for the first time at the Czech National Theater on Jan. 25, 1921 and has since been translated and performed in more than 30 countries. While Čapek was credited to be the first person to have used the term, it was his brother Josef, a cubist painter, who had come up with the word, which came from the Slavic word robota, meaning “serfdom” or “forced labor,” which perfectly encompasses the play.

Čapek was an emerging literary star in Czechoslovakia when he wrote the play, which used the word robot” to describe the “artificial workers” and “living and intelligent working machines.” This three-act drama skillfully portrays the potential vicious influence of technology on society, where modernity is controlled not by ideas and values, but ruthless intellect and greed. As the word robot, birthed through the creative process of delivering a satirical take on the influence of technology in modern society, celebrates its centennial, the essence of the play is proven to be more relevant today in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To mark this centennial celebration, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Manila, in partnership with Ateneo de Naga University Press, has published the Filipino version of R.U.R., translated by the late Filipino novelist, playwright, and short story writer Rogelio Sicat. The book was launched virtually via Facebook Live of the Ateneo de Naga University Press. The book, designed by Ryan Cuatrona, also contains illustrations by John Sherwin Acampado.

“It is our aim and passion at the Czech Embassy in Manila to promote the usage of the mother tongue in the Philippines and to introduce Czech masterpieces in the local languages,” says Czech Ambassador Jana Šedivá. “R.U.R. by Karel Čapek is a real jewel of Czech classical literature and I am pleased that Filipino readers can now read this extraordinary book in Filipino. I am also grateful to our continuous friendship with Ateneo de Naga University Press, which has been a strong partner of the Embassy in promoting cultural exchange.”

It is our aim and passion at the Czech Embassy in Manila to promote the usage of the mother tongue in the Philippines and to introduce Czech masterpieces in the local languages. —Czech Ambassador Jana Šedivá

“The new RUR project, undertaken by the Embassy of Czech Republic and the Ateneo de Naga University Press, is a living proof of the mutual trust between these two institutions, whose love for the arts and literature remain our driving force to continue with this cultural diplomacy now even made stronger with the leadership of Ambassador Jana Sediva. This translation of Karel Capek by one of the country’s topmost Filipino writers, Rogelio Sicat, is a welcome addition to the growing titles we have that are borne out of this friendship.” says Kristian Cordero, deputy director of Ateneo de Naga University Press.

HEAR THE RUR The launch poster of the new book

Literature has played an important role in the cultural relations between the Czech Republic and the Republic the Philippines, where there has been a rich growth of exchange, translations, and publications of both Czech and Filipino works over the past years. Among the previously published books with Ateneo de Naga University Press are Patid: Mga Kontemporaneong Kwento ng mga Czech at Slovak na Manunulat, and Malikmata: Mga Kuwentong Kababalaghan Mula Czech Republic.

Limited copies of the books are sold at Savage Mind Bookshop in Naga City, Camarines Sur.