14 October, 2006


The story of I'itoi is also the story of every human being, traveling through life as though through a maze, taking many turns while growing stronger and wiser as death, at the center of the maze, comes closer. Trace the light path. You will find one more turn at the end, away from the center. Here we can look back on the trail and have one last chance for reflection and an opportunity to find acceptance of the last step.

The figure above is known as the "Man in the maze," an emblem of the Tohono O'odham Nation of Southern Arizona (formerly known as the Papago Indians). The design, depicting a man exiting a labrynth, is most often seen on basketry dating back as far as the nineteenth century, and occasionally in Hopi silver art. Labrynths are common motifs in ancient petroglyphs (Native American rock art), and often resemble those found in ancient Greece and other parts of the world.

This symbol is said to represent a person's journey through life. Although the design appears to be a maze, it is actually a unicursal figure with many twists and turns; these are said to represent choices made in life. The center is dark, as the journey is one from darkness to light.

There is a Pima Indian legend that explains when a
person is born into this world, they enter a maze of
life. The entrance is at the top where Se-eh-ha (Elder Brother) is waiting to show the way. The legend tells of the dead ends, detours and obstacles. It's the struggle to understand what can affect the physical, emotional, and spiritual growth that can guide them through the maze. At each turn, there is an opportunity to understand and appreciate the cycle of life, and to gain strength to move toward their goals. If the path is traveled in harmony and with a balance with nature, the legend says that dreams and ambitions will be found at the center of the maze, where E-e-thoi (Sun God) waits. He then passes them on to the next world.

There is no one meaning to the Man in the Maze.
Interpretations of the image vary from family to family.

A common interpretation is as follows: The human figure stands for the O'odham people. The maze represents 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 for death, and for becoming one with Elder Brother I'itoi, the Creator. Other O'odham see the image of a man as representative of an individual, or all of mankind, or I'itoi himself.

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

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.
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.

One of my favorite pieces of artwork. Look into the maze and figure out how much of the above rings true to your soul, for it is the circle of life that we must all endure in this human form on the physical plane. Hoping we all enjoy our little "trip" through the maze and have fun while doing it. Remember harmony and balance will keep you on the path you were meant to be on...all is as it should be, until we return "home" to the stars" from which we came.