Interpretations of the Man in the Maze

The Man in the Maze


Man in the Maze motif, in the San Xavier Mission, Tuscon.

The "Man In The Maze" is a visual representation of the Tohono O'odham Indians belief in life, death and the life after death. The man at the top of the maze depicts birth. By following the pattern, beginning at the top, the figure goes through the maze encountering many turns and changes, as in life. As the journey continues, one aquires knowledge, strength and understanding. Nearing the end of the maze, one retreats to a small corner of the pattern before reaching the dark center of death and eternal life. Here one repents, cleanses and reflects back on all the wisdom gained. Finally, pure and in harmony with the world, death and eternal life are accepted.

The Tohono O'odham refer to the Man in the Maze as the T'itoi. The design depicts the story of each human being traveling through life as through a maze, taking many turns while growing stronger and wiser, but always approaching death, as represented by the dark center. In the Maze, the path of life begins at the periphery and progresses towards the center, but each major turn of the path is away from the center. Despite this seeming contradiction, the end of the path is the center of the maze, which is death. As one approaches death, one is able to look back on the completed journey with its many turns and to find acceptance of the last step.

‘Man in the Maze’ pictorial description:

  • The Man In The Maze
  • ‘Man in the Maze’ pictorial description:

    The Gila River Indian Community -- the Akimel O'odham -- refer to the Man in the Maze as the Se:he or the Elder Brother, who is their Creator. The journey of life is a journey through a maze, beginning at birth and continuing through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and finally ending in old age. The four major turns in the path represent the four directions, and the center of the maze represents death. Death is the beginning of a new journey and, thus, the cycle repeats itself.

    The Man in the Maze is a type of , represented in the basket making and silversmithing of the American Southwest, especially among the nation, characterized by seven concentric circles.