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Man in the Maze

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

The twin themes of Life and Choice are commonly depicted in this type of labyrinth. The "Man in the Maze" was originally created as an illustration of the emergence story by the Tohono O'odham or Papago Indians of Southern Arizona. Man in the Maze has been adopted by other people because of its symbolism of life's cycles and eternal motion, and also of the choices we are confronted with. The right choices lead us to a point of harmony with all things, no matter how hard or long the road taken. Man in the Maze is frequently utilized by Hopi silversmiths as a way to showcase craftsmanship.

The O'odham began employing the man-in-the-maze pattern in their basketry in the early 1900s. The motif has come to serve as an icon for the O'odham people. The human-like figure is the O'odham Elder Brother, I'itoi.

Tohono O'odham man in maze basket

Interpretations of the Man in the Maze

There is no known, precise meaning to the Man in the Maze. Interpretations of the image vary from family to family, and the symbolism is a guarded tenet of sacred belief. A common interpretation that the human figure represents the O'odham people. The maze signifies the difficult journey toward finding deeper meaning in life. The twists an turns refer to struggles and lessons learned along the way. At the center of the maze is a circle, which stands either for death or for the ultimate realization of identity or eternity , and for becoming one with Elder Brother I'itoi, the Creator.

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.