accumulated enough foodstuffs to hold a large feast, at which time these foodstuffs will be redistributed to other village members. Prestige and some renown fall upon him through the holding of a successful feast. But there are usually other individuals in his village with the same aspirations who are holding feasts of their own. If he is consistently able to hold larger feasts than those organized by his competitors, he is generally recognized as the village big man and given considerable prestige. But should he falter at this task, his status is quickly lost, and he will be replaced by one of the competitors who has outdone him. Also, he is expected to be generous in his distribution of products and must place considerable emphasis on the welfare of the entire village. Big men who are not sufficiently generous and keep too much for themselves are frequently killed (M. Harris, 1974, 1977).
The quest for high status on the part of aspiring Melanesian big men has definite economic consequences. Such a quest strongly enhances economic productivity, leading to a general increase in the quantity of garden products, domesticated animals, fish, and other economic products (Oliver, 1955). The circulation of goods is also substantially increased, as feast preparation involves numerous exchanges of goods and services. In addition, there is typically a notable increase in the consumption of many goods by the members of the entire village (Oliver, 1955). The process of competitive feasting is, then, a vital part of the economic systems of Melanesian horticulturalists.
The Kaoka-speakers, a simple horticultural group in Melanesia, are characterized by a classic big-man redistributive system (Hogbin, 1964). The native expression
for a leader of prestige and renown is mwanekama, which literally means “man-big.” The natives generally agree that there is at any given time only one real big man in a