Carcass ownership and meat distribution by big-game cooperative hunters Academic Article uri icon


  • A renewed interest in the hunting hypothesis has focused on the control and distribution of meat. A frequent observation among foragers is that large game prey resources are often widely distributed in a manner that suggests to some researchers that hunters do not own their prey and thus cannot direct meat distribution to their families. The 'show-off' model has been evoked to argue that hunters hunt in order to signal status rather than to provision their families. In contrast, detailed prey distribution data from the whale hunters of Lamalera, Indonesia, show that hunters do in fact own specific shares of prey. Whales are indeed very large game, but rather than a public good, a harvested whale carcass at Lamalera consists of privately owned shares, delineated by a complex and mutually agreed-upon set of norms. Results show that hunting in Lamalera is mutualistic, involving multifaceted coordination between many individuals. Rights to shares of the harvest are contingent primarily upon hunt participation either directly as a hunter, as a craftsman, or as a corporate member. If big game hunting does not preclude hunters from owning the meat they harvest, then hunting may be less about simply 'show' and more about family provisioning than suggested by the show-off model. 2002.

published proceedings

  • Research in Economic Anthropology

author list (cited authors)

  • Alvard, M. S.

citation count

  • 26

complete list of authors

  • Alvard, Michael S

publication date

  • January 2002