Marks of a Leader
Tupaia was a high priest, orator, artist and an expert navigator and he belonged to a special group of high-ranking people called ‘arioi. Ancient Tahiti functioned as a hierarchal society and consisted of social and political systems regarding the Ari'i (royal chiefs), manahuni (commoners), teuteu (servants) and the titi (slaves). The ‘arioi society sat alongside Ancient Tahiti’s hierarchical structure and were intertwined with all the social, political and cultural constructs of the society. The ‘arioi worshipped Oro, the god of war and fertility. Oro ruled the gateways between Te Po, the sacred dark space where the gods and spirits dwelled, and Te Ao, the bright luminous space of human life.
Tupaia was an ‘āvae parai, a black-leg ‘arioi. His tātau was a symbol of his status and rank in the ‘arioi society - the ‘āvae parai was the highest ranked within the ‘arioi society. Tupaia had been marked from birth and as he grew older and his knowledge expanded, the layers marked on his body were an indication of his ascensions within the ‘arioi society. His whole leg from foot to groin was tattooed black, marking him out as a leader. The grades of the ‘arioi society were distinguished, as follows:
“i. Avae Parai (“blotted legs” or “black legs”). […] each local division of the ario’i was led by a pair of ario’i leaders or “chiefs”, one male and one female […].
ii. Harotea (light-coloured haro tattoo mark). Bars running crosswise on both sides of the body from the armpits downwards towards the front.
iii. Taputu or ha’aputu. This design consisted of a series of curved lines and curves radiating upwards towards the sides of the torso from the lower end of the spinal column to the middle of the back.
iv. Oti’ore (“unfinished”). Light marks on the knuckles and wrists, and heavier ones on the arms and shoulders.
v. Hu’a (“small”). Two or three light marks on the shoulders.
vi. Atoro. One stripe down the left side.
vii. Ohe mara (“seasoned bamboo”). A circle tattooed around the ankle.
viii. Tara tutu (“pointed thorn”). Small marks in the hollow behind the knees.” 
The descriptions of the ‘arioi grade-markings allow an understanding of the designs used, however it must be noted that tātau designs encompass a multiplicity of layered imagery, stories and meanings. The HMB Endeavour’s artist Sydney Parkinson illustrated tātau on a Tahitian male [Fig3.] to document some of the patterns marked onto the body.
 Oliver, Douglas, 1974, Ancient Tahitian Society, Vols.I, II and III (Canberra, Australian National University Press), - V2 – p.933