Mia Noi — Minor Wife in Thailand

Mia noi is still common practice in the Kingdom and Thai society concerned deem it as acceptable

Family in Thailand

I only discovered the meaning of เมียน้อย, mia noi, which translates to minor wife in English, after I had been living in Thailand for a few months.

The wife of a farmer who lived near my home died suddenly and I was invited to the funeral. Talking about the events later with a Thai friend I discovered that the lady who had died was one of three wife’s the farmer maintained. Indeed she was his first wife, while the other two women living at the farm were his เมียน้อย. I had always assumed the two younger women were the farmers daughters.

What exactly is a Mia Noi in Thai Society

So what exactly is a Mia Noi or Minor Wife in Thai society? Well in the West, unless you were from a group that practices polygamy, we would probably call the mia noi a mistress. But in Thailand the Thais use another word for mistress, or at least no-exclusive partner, this is กิ๊ก, gik. So its more than that.

If you take the example of the farmer and his three wives all three women co-existed under the same roof so perhaps a mia noi , a minor wife, is a woman who is much more involved in the relationship than a mistress might be. Having a similar role to that of a wife in a polygamous relationship practised in the West.

That’s not to say all mia noi cohabit with the husbands first wife. In fact its often quite the opposite where the husband separately maintains two households.

Why do Thai Men seek a Mia Noi?

Well I can think of a couple of reasons why a Thai man might seek to establish a mia noi type relationship. The first is summed up nicely in the opening statement in a report from 2010 that appeared in the Nation Newspaper:

Most husbands took on minor wives because other women were readily available and they got tired of their first wife “going to pot and nagging them all the time.”

Secondly, and it is but a theory of mine, relates to status or face if you like. To Thai thinking taking a mia noi perhaps demonstrates a man’s status given he might well be maintaining more than one household. Power and money go hand in hand in Thailand and maintaining two or three different families certainly demonstrates that the man has plenty of money.

Why is a Mia Noi acceptable in Thai Society?

After spending more time here and making friends I have discovered that the concept of the mia noi is fairly common place in local Thai society. While not necessarily being approved or openly discussed, it is still seen as acceptable.

It also seems that some Thai women are quite happy for their husband to have a mia noi. Providing, the husband is happy and supports the main wife and any children they have.

There are probably many reasons why taking a mia noi is still common practice in the Kingdom and why Thai society and the women concerned deem it as acceptable.

Here are a few suggestions from me:

The average Thai man is not as open with his partner as in the West. Discussions, such as they are, are set along different lines, with the roles of the spouses varying to those found in other societies. In short Thailand remains a somewhat male dominated society.

Small talk and the sharing of problems is not common, so a minor wife might actually provide a route for a husband to bare his feelings which he might be incapable of sharing in his traditional role.

It might also be that less independent women incapable of supporting themselves would rather accept a mia noi as opposed to finding themselves divorced with no home but still having children to care for. Given that many Thai marriages are not legally binding (not registered) a main wife could be without the protection of the law. There are no messy Western style divorces and asset splitting that might benefit a divorced partner if you only had a Buddhist ceremony in the first place.

Whatever the reasons for the social acceptability of the mia noi it seems to me that at least for the time being the minor wife will continue as a part of Thai society, difficult to understand from a Western perspective perhaps, but apparently perfectly acceptable to a large majority of Thais.

For example, the other day in Thailand, a man married three brides at once at the same time. He became the head of a happy polygamous family and revealed his secret to readers: Three wives in Thailand — a happy marriage in the kingdom.

What do you think about the concept of Mia Noi or Minor Wife and its place in Thai society?

Mike Rose


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