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In most hunting societies there occur together two patterns of behavior that seem incompatible: on the one hand, there are precise formulae for ascribing ownership of an animal to one person when many contribute to acquiring it; and on the other hand, there are patterns for community wide distribution of such animals. Why should such explicit property rules exist if the animals will be distributed anyway? The seeming paradox becomes resolved when these patterns are viewed in the context of the dynamics of reciprocal distributive systems and patterns of esteem-acquisition through superiority in contributing to the community subsistence. The pattern of ownership involved appears to have the function of suppressing conflict among those who contribute to acquiring an animal, since all would like to own it and thus be able to share it. Support for this conclusion derives from social situations in which the pattern of property ascription is absent and conflict is present.
American Anthropologist © 1968 American Anthropological Association