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“Datu” is a term used by many tribal chieftains in the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Though more prominently used in the past, it is a living term still used in indigenous communities.
Datus are second in rank only to Sultans and it is both an inherited title, and one that can be bestowed on someone who shows great leadership ability.
One of the most famous datu’s was Lapu-lapu of Mactan Island. His forces repelled the invading forces of Ferdinand Magellan in April 27, 1521, and it is said that he himself killed the famed European explorer.
The term was brought over to the Philippines by Muslim migrants from Borneo. This tale is told in the story of the Ten Datus:
Due to the rapacity of the ruler of Borneo, named Datu Makatunaw, ten datus ventured to escape his grasp by boarding their long ships called barangays in order to seek out new lands. These men, whose names were Datu Puti, Datu Sumakwel, Datu Bangkaya, Datu Paiborong, Datu Paduhinogan, Datu Dumangsol, Datu Libay, Datu Dumangsil, Datu Domalogdog, and Datu Balensuela, eventually became the founders of the pre-colonial Philippine civilization.
Upon sailing the seas, they in time reached a couple of islands called Panay and Sinugbuhan. These islands were under the rule of an Aeta “big-man” named Marikudo. These pygmy-like bands that practiced hunting and gathering as well as slash and burn farming (kaingin), were initially in terror of the Borneans. However, Datu Puti, who was the leader of the group, sought a peaceful alliance and was therefore welcomed by the Aetas. Immediately, they forged trade relations with the natives exchanging their combs, hatchets, knives and copper swords (called kris) to the Aetas’ deer horns, boar teeth, bamboo baskets, and various maritime products.
To commemorate the new alliance, Marikudo invited his new associates for a feast under the thick, broad branches of his dapdap and the bounteous food was laid on banana leaves. The Borneans came wearing splendid accoutrements. The men wore kerchiefs wound 4 times around their heads, grandiose jewelry, sleeveless and collarless vests and various shirts. The women wore their heads parted in the middle and knotted in two like horns of a cow’s calf perched on each ear. They had long sleeved blouses and they had long, ornately colored skirts called tapis.
In this feast, the Datus negotiated the purchase of land and since the Aetas thought that the island was too large to farm, they agreed. The Aetas, who preferred the cover of forests and mountains, retreated to such areas (where they can still be found today), while the Datus divided portions of the island and thus founded the various clans of the Philippine culture. [above from: http://www.geocities.com/gcalla1/epic.htm%5D
In some ways the Babaylan was even more powerful than the datu. As the community shamans, they were the doctors, high priests, storytellers, and political advisors. Their power was not political or economic, theirs came from a greater source, from the divine.
They could be male, or female, or a male transvestite (called an ‘asog’), but most commonly they were women. They became Babaylan through an illness that could only be cured by accepting the calling.
They were shamans or spirit mediums given to seizures and trances where they spoke in tongues (in the voice of their diwata/god). They acted out conflicts in the spirit world often becoming violent enough that they had to be restrained.
“The babaylan in Filipino indigenous tradition is a person who is gifted to heal the spirit and the body; a woman who serves the community through her role as a folk therapist, wisdom-keeper and philosopher; a woman who provides stability to the community’s social structure; a woman who can access the spirit realm and other states of consciousness and traffic easily in and out of these worlds; a woman who has vast knowledge of healing therapies”. In addition to this, a babaylan is someone who “intercedes for the community and individuals” and is also someone who “serves.”
“Prior to, during, and after the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898, the babaylans of Dios Buhawi and Papa Isio of Negros Occidental participated in the struggle to throw off the Spanish yoke. Their primary agenda was religious freedom and agrarian reform; most followers of the babaylan tradition were dispossessed land owners thrown off their property by the Spanish hacienderos and in some cases by Spanish friars bent on acquiring land. [from Wikipedia]”