The Datu’s Lordship

Datu

INTRODUCTION

The datu is a noble title of the supreme authority in the precolonial Philippines. Most datus controlled the coastal and riverine nations in ancient Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The datu governed his territories, led his soldiers to war, commanded his armada on seas, protected his villages from their enemies, and settled disputes among his people.

The term datu is indigenous to Southeast Asia, originating from the Malays. Its spelling variations are dato or datuk. And this title is still being used today in some parts of Mindanao and Sulu, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

NOBLE LINEAGE

The aristocratic datu came from the highest and ruling Maginoo class of the three-tier social hierarchy structure, which was generally observed by the pre-conquest Filipinos living in the lowland areas. Below the Maginoo was the freeman class, locally known as the Maharlika for the Tagalogs while Timawa for the Visayans; they were the free folks who supported the datu in wars and trade. And lastly, at the bottom of the social hierarchy was the Alipin class, the servants and slaves.

The datu governed his territories, led his soldiers to war, commanded his armada on seas, protected his villages from their enemies, and settled disputes among his people.

DATU’S PRIVILEGES

The datu belonged to the rich and elite class, and he was expected to be skilled in martial, maritime, leadership, religious, political, and economic subjects. And as a datu exercised his leadership over his territory that was called a barangay or dulohan, he was entitled to receive taxes, labors, gifts, martial services, and honor from the people he governed.

TAXES
Buis is the local word for tax. And the datus exercised on collecting anchorage fees and other forms of buis from trade merchants that wished to enter their harbor, river gates, and trading ports.

LABORS
For personal labors, the datu enjoyed that all his farms harvested, new lands tilled, houses built, hunting and fishing parties filled, and other chores serviced by his subjects.

GIFTS
In the ancient Visayas, the datu would receive a special gift from couples who asked his blessing for marriage, and this was called the himuka. When a datu presided a lawsuit, he would receive a gift called bawbaw from the winning party. The datu would receive a formal gift called the handug, as a symbol of allegiance, from a free folk who wished to live under his protection.

MARTIAL SERVICES
If there was a war or conflict, aside from his personal army, the datu could easily summon warriors from the Maharlika and Timawa classes, and the free folks would answer their datu’s call for war without hesitation. This also included equipping and supplying raiding vessels and other warring needs.

HONOR
The datu received the highest respect and honors in precolonial times. He was always addressed in the third person by his subordinates. And when entering in the presence of a datu, one should bow down with palms raised alongside cheeks, and to speak to him, one should cover their mouth with a hand or a leaf.

The datus drew other forms of honor from his people, for the datus had special customs reserved for him in parades, marriages, feasts, funerals, and other life events. This also included exclusive designs for his clothing, adornments, parasols, ships, vehicles, houses, armaments, and everyday items.

The datu belonged from the rich and elite class, and he was expected to be skilled in martial, maritime, leadership, religious, political, and economic subjects.

COUNCIL MEMBERS

Datus had a body of counselors and advisers. For crucial legal and political matters, the datus consulted their elders. These elders were most likely retired datus or noble wise men who held office in the court of datus.

When datus, noble elders, and royal retinues meet, this was called a pulong or lupon, their council meeting. For Mindanao’s and Sulu’s equivalents, this was called the bichara atas or the ruma bichara.

Depending on the region, to enforce the rule of law, a datu maintained an extensive body of martial and political officers, here as follows:

  • Chief Minister: Atubang
  • General: Panglima
  • Lord Admiral: Laksamana/Raja Laut
  • Crown Prince: Raja Mura/Raja Muda
  • Captain: Nakhoda
  • Steward: Paragahin
  • Sheriff: Bilanggo
  • Town Crier: Paratawag/Umalohokan
  • Guard: Kawal/Bantay
  • Warrior: Bagani

THE SUPREME DATU

Not all datus were equal. The datu’s lineage, wealth, size of territory, number of slaves, martial and maritime power, and physical prowess dictated his superiority against his neighboring datus.

Over time, a datu who successfully expanded his territory by governing more barangays, that would become a bayan, or embraced a new religion, might change his title or his descendant’s title, making it grander or fitting to describe his achievements.

This change of noble titles might be lakan, raja, sarripada, or other lofty appellations, and all of them had datus under their command. And according to historians, the pangulo was considered the datu of datus.

In the royal house of Maguindanao, it can be observed that their rulers’ titles had started from timuay, to sharif, to datu, and then, it ultimately became sultan, as Maguindanao developed into a sultanate in 1645, almost ruling all of Mindanao Island.

Over time, a datu who successfully expanded his territory by governing more barangays, that would become a bayan, or embraced a new religion, might change his title or his descendant’s title, making it grander or fitting to describe his achievements.

POINTS TO PONDER

Truly, the modern-day Filipinos can celebrate for the word datu, for this gives a strong cultural heritage and identity. Also, it can be observed that the ancient governance of the datus has lived on, for the smallest political subdivision in the Philippines is called a barangay, in where a punong barangay and lupons have minor judicial power in settling conflicts between neighbors while the highest political position in the Philippines is called the pangulo. From the word datu, we can appreciate:

  1. Nobility was observed and respected by the ancient Filipinos.
  2. Leadership is innate in the Filipino character.
  3. There was a strong governance during the precolonial Philippines.

REFERENCES

  • Blair, Emma Helen, and Alexander Robertson, eds., The Philippine Islands 1493-1898 (Volumes I–LV). Reprint of the 1903-1909 edition, Michigan Library, 2005. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philamer.
  • CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. Manila: Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas [Cultural Center of the Philippines] Special Publication Office, 1994.
  • Francisco, Erick James. Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom, 2004. Manila: Rizal Park.
  • Kintanar, Thelma B. et al., eds., Cultural Dictionary for Filipinos. Quezon City: University of the Philippines, 2009.
  • Majul, Cesar Adib. Muslims in the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
  • Saleeby, Najeeb M. Studies in Moro History, Law, and Religion. Reprint of the 1905 edition, Project Gutenberg, 2013. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41770.
  • Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2004.

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