Social Organization. Traditionally there have been several regions within Cotabato, each associated with a group of related families who are prominent both socially and politically. In each region are a number of important larger communities in which powerful datus reside. In these communities, status distinctions are significant in everyday life as well as on ceremonial occasions. The datu is accorded special respect and directs many of the activities of his followers. He presides over the affairs of the community and at religious celebrations or other events. Deference is shown not only to him but to his wife or wives and others of high rank who live nearby, many of whom are related to him. Central communities of this type are generally surrounded by many smaller, satellite villages, which may be some distance away. These villages usually are comprised of members of the same loosely defined kindred, possibly including remotely related relatives. Villagers recognize that they have a right to live and farm there because some of their ancestors farmed there in the past. This means they all recognize at least some degree of kinship with one another. In these villages, everyday relations are basically egalitarian. There may be a headman who represents the group in relations with outsiders. Most decisions that affect the group, however, are made by the group or by the adult males of the group. In the case of major problems or conflicts that they cannot resolve, they will turn to the datu who has authority in their area to settle the matter.
Political Organization. The highest political leaders in the past were the sultans. In the past two to four sultans reigned at any one time in different parts of Cotabato. Sometimes only one or two wielded real political power beyond their immediate area. A sultan was selected from among contenders by a council of datus, and had power only to the extent that he enjoyed their support. Today the title is honorific. Datus retain some local power, and intermarriage between families of datus extends an alliance network that continues to be politically important even in terms of national politics.
Social Control. The blood feud is one of the most serious and distinctive types of conflict in this society. It usually results from a killing that involves different families or communities. If the killer is not punished and a settlement reached quickly, a feud can be initiated and can result in seemingly interminable reprisal killings. The families of the killer and the victim try to avert this possibility by immediately negotiating through intermediaries. An effort is made to apprehend the killer and turn him over to the local datu for punishment, including death or incarceration. The families also negotiate payment of a death settlement to the family of the deceased. All members of the killer's kindred are liable for contributions to the settlement, the amount of which is supposed to depend on the social rank of the deceased. This type of serious conflict, while fortunately rare today, is mentioned as an example because of the roles played by the kindred and the datu in conflict resolution.