As we saw in the case of hunter-gatherers, as goes ownership so goes distribution. Reciprocity is a common practice in simple horticultural societies, but they are also characterized by another process that anthropologists have called redistribution. When redistribution occurs, products are funneled from individual households to a central source and then returned to those households in some sort of systematic manner. Redistribution differs from reciprocity in that redistribution is a more formalized process involving the movement of goods into the hands of some person or group that serves as the focal point for their reallocation.
Two types of redistribution may be identified: pure and partial (Moseley and Wallerstein, 1978), sometimes called egalitarian and stratified (M. Harris, 1975). In pure redistribution, the redistributive process is complete in the sense that the redistributive agent reallocates all goods and keeps no extra portion for himself. By contrast, where partial redistribution occurs the redistributive process is incomplete inasmuch as the redistributive agent retains a portion of goods for his own use. Pure redistributive economies, which are most commonly associated with small-scale horticulturalists, work somewhat differently from one society to another. One version of a redistributive economy is widespread among simple horticultural groups in Melanesia. These societies contain extremely ambitious men known as big men. Big men are individuals who seek prestige and renown through their roles as organizers of economic production. The typical aspiring big man begins his career by cultivating larger gardens and raising bigger pig herds. He does this by drawing on the help of close relatives and neighbors, who themselves have a stake in his success. If he is successful at his attempts to increase the productivity of his own gardens and herds, he will eventually have