Datus, Rajahs, and Sultans: How Wealthy and Powerful Were the Pre-Colonial Filipino Nobility?
When 17th-century Spanish missionary Francisco Colin came to the Philippines, he mentioned that “there are no kings or rulers worthy of mention” in the islands. He made a common mistake among European observers at the time in searching for evidence of early wealth and power in authoritative law codes, centralized government, and temple complexes, which the Philippines then lacked.
They were surprised, however, when they discovered that Filipinos, commoners and nobility alike, wore gold
Historian William Henry Scott describes the regality of a certain Datu
Not All Datus Were Powerful
Lakan Dula, who ruled the northern side of the Pasig River Delta in Tondo, was an equally powerful and wealthy
Datus who paid tributes or those who were subordinated to superior
Rajah Sulayman and Lakan Dula also demanded tributes from visiting merchants who wished to participate in trade.
The Sultan: An Even Wealthier More Powerful Ruler
When Islam was introduced in the Philippines in the 13th century, a new form of ruler emerged: the sultan. A sultan is a ruler who is considered
Rather than competing with the sultan’s spiritual power, religious leaders of Islam worked with the sultan to suppress evil spirits and rule over other
Two of the largest and most powerful sultanates to emerge in the Philippines were the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao.
Map of the Sultanate of Sulu (left) and
map of the Sultanate of Maguindanao (right)
Sultan Kudarat of Maguindanao became one of the wealthiest and most powerful rulers in the history of pre-colonial Philippines. During his reign from 1619 to 1671, the sultanate experienced its golden age.
According to Abinales and Amoroso, Sultan Kudarat engaged in international politics and trade. He forged an alliance with the Dutch East India Company to which he sold rice and slaves. He also played the Dutch the Spanish against each other, while he allied with the Sultan of Sulu to conduct joint raids on the Visayas.
Depiction of Wealth and Royalty
One of the reasons we know how Filipino rulers dressed is because of the Boxer Codex, a
In this manuscript, Tagalog and Visayan royalty are shown wearing fine silk and adorned with gold accessories.
Among the members of the nobility, red clothing was symbolic of their social status as rulers, especially in the Tagalog region. Notable in the pictures are the gold chains, bands, earrings, and trimmings.
Datus also wore fine cotton and silk, as opposed to the tree bark
Other Status Symbols
According to Abinales and Amoroso,
datu and his wife
Comparable to today’s banquets,
People, Not Gold, Was the Standard Measure of Wealth and Power
While the Europeans considered gold and land as the standard of economic wealth especially in the age of mercantilism in the 1500s, the Filipino
It was crucial for
So how wealthy were the
In terms of gold, they could have well outranked all the European principalities of the 13th century, considering the Philippines was one of the top gold-producing countries in the world, as even common folk like
Abinales, Patricio N., Amoroso, Donna J. (2005). State and Society in the Philippines. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.