Datus of the Philippines

Background and History

Datu is the title for ancient tribal chiefs in the pre-hispanic Philippines. Along with Sultan and Raja, they are also titles of royalty and currently used in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia and are equivalent to titles such as “Dukes". The term Datu was derived from Malay words dato' or datok, which are the royal titles of the Malays. The myth of the arrival of ten Bornean datus is celebrated in the Binirayan festival on the island of Panay in the Philippines.
In traditional Moro (Muslim) society, a datu was both a community and religious leader whose strength was measured by the amount of their possessions and number of followers. For his people, the datu provided aid in emergencies and helped settle disputes with followers of another chief.

The datu continued to play a central role in Moro society in the 1980s. In many parts of Muslim Mindanao, they still administered the sharia (sacred Islamic law). Datu support was essential for government programs in a Muslim barangay.
The Tale of the Ten Datus
According to legend, ten datus came from Borneo (around 1250AD) to escape the cruelty and greed of Datu Makatunaw, who had seized their belongings and harmed their families. Secretly, these ten datus boarded their sailboats with their wives and belongings, and set sail for the Philippines and landed in what is now known as San Joaquin town in Iloilo province. There, they purchased the island of Panay in exchange for a gold saduk (helmet) and a long gold necklace, dividing the land into areas of Hamtik, Aklan, and Irong-Irong and establishing the barangay community system that is the core of Filipino culture today.


Cordero-Fernando, G. (1977). “A Tale of Ten Datus”. Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation. Vol. 3. Lahing Pilipino Publishing Inc. p. 635-9.

Country Studies Series

Cordova, T. & Espiritu, P. C. (2001) Pinoy Teach: Multicultural Curriculum, 4th Ed.

Panay Island