Malaysia has a peerage system comparable in some respects to what is practiced in the UK, whereby Malaysians of common origins can be conferred a non-hereditary title of honor by the monarch. Like in the UK, this is given out to exceptional artists, athletes, statesmen, men of learning, and to the exceptionally wealthy. It gets complicated because a number of different states have their own sultanate, and the elected National Monarch, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, appoints Governors for those states that do not have hereditary sultans.
This means that every state in the union is able to designate titles of distinction independently. Moreover, there is a graded heirarchy of titles available to be awarded, starting with Datuk (or Datu or Dato’ depending on the state) and moving on to Datuk Seri, Tan Sri, Pehin Sri and Tun. Four or five ranks multiplied by 13 states equals a rather large array of distinguished individuals throughout the country.
Just as the wife of a Duke becomes a Duchess, so do the wives of Datuks become Datins by virtue of marriage, irregardless of what merit they may or may not possess on their own. Take Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his lovely wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor: Datuk and Datin.
But what about the woman who has distinguished herself by her outstanding talents or contribution to the nation? In what must be considered an egalitarian aspect of national culture, women of distinction are also awarded the same title of Datuk, Datuk Seri or even Tan Sri: witness the truly exceptional Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, considered among the best Central Bank Governors in the world, the first female Central Bank Governor in Asia, shortlisted for president of the International Monetary Fund after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.
If women can be datuks, then datuks can marry datuks. This happens; for example, the Malaysian Nightingale, Datuk Siti Norhaliza, and her spouse, the noted businessman Datuk Khalid Muhammad Jiwa: Datuk and Datuk.
The third option: a woman earning Datuk while married to an average schmoe. The husband in this situation is left titleless. It doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? I’ve thought about it. Oh yes, I’ve thought about it. See, I myself have been blessed to marry an uncommonly talented woman, and it is not beyond my ability to dream that after a couple more decades of loyal service to God, King and Country, she may one day achieve national recognition in her field and be conferred a datukship. Amin, Ya Rabb!
That should make us: Datuk dan Pendatang.
Cue Datuk Siti Nurhaliza: Two Different Worlds
Update: Since the title carries a significant amount of prestige in Malaysian society, the temptation to fake your credentials is strong. There are those who succumb. Perhaps you’ve met a dubious datuk doing dirty deeds. Check his credentials before you fawn, with the official government registry of meritorious individuals. If the deeds are dirty but the datukship is legit, I’m afraid I can’t help you.