The triads were very much the make-up of overseas Chinese in Malaya back in the 1800s, with 7 out of 10 persons either belonging to one brotherhood or the other, depending on which side bullies them. It is an olden day form of a trade union, and it propagated mutual aid and a sense of security to individuals indeed, if one works in the mining field. And a strong cluster cannot be overstated in the wake of problems encountered in a land alien to them. Every member undergoes induction rites and their rituals took on the version of their Chinese counterpart, the ‘Tiandihui’ , otherwise known as the ‘Heaven Earth Sect’ – a Ming loyalists secret society that originates to resist the invasion of Manchus during the Qing Dynasty.
In Malaya, their sworn brotherhood and protectionist policy instinctively appeals to many, especially when succumbed to duress or bully. Their brotherhood ensures peace, and a stable income for all. And so it was, that the British had a hard time flushing them out that gradually, a triad member named Yap Ah Loy had to be deployed to mediate and ensure peace on behalf of their rule.
Gang wars was a natural occurrence then, when differences cannot be reconciled, and some went full blown, making its way into our annals of history. Every initiated member were issued weapons, many self made, the most popular being the Malay parang once used for clearing lands is now used for butchering, the trident-like spears, wooden poles, and of course, knuckle dusters (a recent find shown below) which delivers excruciating pain when a blow is received.
Gradually, the British, in dire straits and concern over their strength, devised a way to outlaw these secret societies, by encouraging them to register their societies legally, so that every member is a statistic, on the pretext of being philomantic to their cause, grouping themselves by the district that one originates, by dialect spoken, by common surname, and by the trade one belongs to. Of course many remained undercover to work their so called secret activities.
(Below: a zoomorphic shaped bronze knuckle duster)