Labyrinth Design


Man in the Maze:
Style of unicursal Labyrinth topologically equivalent to the classical seven circuit Labyrinth, commonly seen in the Tohono O'Odham nation (Native American tribe), characterized by seven concentric circles with the seed pattern in the center.

Life and Choice, depicted in this common symbol, "the-man-in-the-maze" was originally created as an illustration of an emergence story by the Tohono o'odham or Papago Indians of the Central Valley in Arizona. The little man is named "U'ki'ut'l" in their language. It has been adopted by other people because it is significant 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. This symbol is especially utilized by Hopi silversmiths as a way to showcase the quality of their technique.

Man-In-The-Maze logo for Skills Center
photograph by Alan Levine

THE MAN IN THE MAZE appears here in the lobby of
the Maricopa Skills Center SouthWest and is part of the logo of this educational institution.

3000 N. Dysart Rd, Avondale, AZ 85323-1000
(623) 535-2700


Dates: Early 20th century
Materials: willow and cattail

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

Photo Source (next 2 photos to the right):
Photographic Collections, Arizona State Museum
The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0026
Kathy HubenschmidtSusan Luebbermann

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 accepted.

I'itoi Man In The Maze
Man In The Maze Basket---Tohono O'odham and Akimel O'odham

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.

Man-in-the-Maze basket
photograph by Alan Levine

THE MISSION SAN XAVIER DEL BAC, is a gleaming white church rising from the desert south of Tucson, Arizona.

Founded in 1700 by Padre Kino, the church is one of the finest pieces of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.

A basket (date unknown) made of bear grass shows a design that is found in the Pima and the Tohono 'O'odham cultures of southern Arizona.