A pre-colonial couple belonging to the Datu or nobility as depicted in the Boxer Codex of the 16th century.

Datu is a title which denotes the rulers (variously described in historical accounts as chiefs, sovereign princes, and monarchs[Notes 1]) of numerous indigenous peoples throughout the Philippine archipelago. The title is still used today, especially in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, [Notes 2][Notes 3] but it was used much more extensively in early Philippine history, particularly in the regions of Central and Southern Luzon,[1][2][3] the Visayas[Notes 4] and Mindanao.[Notes 5]

In early Philippine history, Datus and a small group of their close relatives formed the "apex stratum" of the traditional three-tier social hierarchy of lowland Philippine societies.[2] Only a member of this birthright aristocracy (called "maginoo", "nobleza", "maharlika", or "timagua" by various early chroniclers) could become a Datu; members of this elite could hope to become a datu by demonstrating prowess in war and/or exceptional leadership.[2][3][1]

In large coastal polities such as those in Maynila, Tondo, Pangasinan, Cebu, Panay, Bohol, Butuan, Cotabato, Lanao, and Sulu,[2] several datus brought their loyalty-groups, referred to as "barangays" or "dulohan", into compact settlements which allowed greater degrees of cooperation and economic specialization. In such cases, datus of these barangays would then select the most senior or most respected among them to serve as what scolars call a "paramount leader, or "paramount datu."[3][1] The titles used by such paramount datu changed from case to case, but some of the most prominent examples were: Sultan in the most Islamized areas of Mindanao; Lakan among the Tagalog people; Thimuay among the Subanen people; Rajah in polities which traded extensively with Indonesia and Malaysia; or simply Datu in some areas of Mindanao and the Visayas.[4]

Together with Lakan (Luzon), Apo in Central and Northern Luzon,[5] Sultan and Rajah, they are titles used for native royalty. Depending upon the prestige of the sovereign royal family, the title of Datu could be roughly comparable to sovereign princes or European dukes.[6]

Proofs of Filipino royalty and nobility (Dugóng Bugháw) can be demonstrated only by clear blood descent from ancient native royal blood,[7][8] and in some cases adoption into a royal family.[clarification needed]

Etymology and Variation across different early Philippine cultures

The word Datu, originally from Sanskrit Devata, via a cognate of the Malay terms Dato' or Datuk, which is one of many Malay styles and titles in Malaysia, and to the Fijian chiefly title of Ratu

Indigenous concepts, models and terminology concerning nobility and rulership among the peoples of the Philippine archipelago differed from one culture to the other, but lowland communities typically had a three-tier social structure aristocracy. In many of these societies, the word "Datu" meant the ruler of a particular social group, known as a Barangay, Dulohan, or Kedatuan.

Studies comparing social structures across different early Philippine cultures

Because of the difficulty of accessing and accurately interpreting the various available sources,[9] relatively few integrative studies of pre-colonial social structures have been done - most studies focus on the specific context of a single settlement or ethnic group. There are only a handful of historiographers and anthropologists who have done integrative studies to examine the commonalities and differences between these polities.

One of the earliest such studies was conducted by Jesuit missionary Francisco Colin, who, in the middle of the seventeenth century,attempted an approximate comparison of the social stratification in Tagalog culture with that in the Visayan culture, which would become a reference for many later scholars.

In the contemporary era of critical scholarly analysis, the more prominent such works include the studies of anthropologist F. Landa Jocano[3][4] and historian-historiographer William Henry Scott.[1][4] More recently, anthropologist Laura Lee Junker[4] conducted an updated comparative review of the social organization of early polities throughout the archipelago, alongside her study of inter and intra-regional trade among Philippine coastal polities.[2]

Other Languages
العربية: داتو
dansk: Datu
Deutsch: Datu
eesti: Datu
español: Datu
Ilokano: Datu
Bahasa Indonesia: Datu
italiano: Datu
Bahasa Melayu: Datu
Nederlands: Datu
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Datu
Tagalog: Datu
中文: 達圖