Traditional Maguindanao settlements were located mostly near the myriad waterways of their interior territory and along the extensive coast. This settlement pattern allowed relative ease of transportation and communication by boat. It also enabled the Maguindanao to dominate trade between the coast and the remote interior and mountain areas inhabited by various non-Muslim native peoples (e.g., Manobo, Tiruray, etc.). Several major trading centers were also seats of political power—even sultanates—such as the areas now known as Cotabato City, Datu Plang, and General Santos City. Other settlements along or near the waterways were controlled by datus (local chieftains) and numbered hundreds or even thousands of people. The traditional homes of the datus were large wooden structures designed as multifamily dwellings, often centered in a compound with other buildings housing relatives and followers. Scattered outlying villages were comprised of smaller dwellings of wood, bamboo, and nipa thatch, which also frequently housed extended families. Since the advent of American colonial rule, the traditional settlement pattern in Cotabato has been altered by the building of roads that do not follow the natural course of the waterways. Large towns have sprung up along the roads and highways, becoming new centers of commerce, while many of the older, wateroriented communities have become isolated and have languished.