Published: July 14, 2010
There were three distinct classes in ancient Filipino society: the upper class, the middle class and the lowest class. The upper class called maharlika by the Tagalogs, occupied the highest positions in society. They consisted of the datus (kings or chiefs) and their families and relatives. They enjoyed great plitical power and high social privileges. Among the Tagalogs, the datus usually carried the title of Gat or Lakan and their wives were called dayang or dayang-dayang–a term still used in Sulu today.
Below these were the middle-class freemen, called timauas by the Tagalogs, Cebuanos, Hilagaynons, and Ilokanos. Regarded as the middle class, they were born free individuals or emancipated slaves; and so were their children. They owned their own houses, land, and other pieces of property. They were warriors, artists, craftsmen, farmers, and hunters. They accompanied the datu when he went to war and hunting expeditions.
The slaves constituted the lowest social class in ancient Philippine society. They were called alipins by the Tagalogs and similar names by the other ethno-linguistic groups in the country. A person became a slave in various ways–by birth or inheritance, by captivity in war, by failure to pay his debt, by purchase, or by committing a crime. But a slave could become a freeman by purchase, by marriage, by paying his master a certain amount, and by the voluntary action of his masters to free him.
Among the ancient Tagalogs, the slaves or dependents were either aliping mamamahay (slave in the home) or aliping saguiguilid (slave around the home). The aliping mamamahay could own property, could marry even without his master’s consent, and could not be sold. He served his master by planting and harvesting his crops, by rowing his boat, and by helping in the construction of this house. On the other hand, the aliping saguiguilid had no house of his own. He lived in the home of his master, coul be sold and could not marry without the permission of his master.