Man in the Maze

“The maze is a symbol of life … happiness, sadness … and you reach your goal … there’s a dream there, and you reach that dream when you get to the middle of the maze … that’s how I was told, my grandparents told me that’s how the maze is.”

This figure is called Se:he or I’itoi (“Big Brother”) in the Tohono O’odham language. He is shown at the top of a labyrinth, or maze, and is often referred to as the “Man in the Maze”. For the Tohono O’odham, the symbol represents a person’s journey through life. The twists and turns represent choices made in life; with each turn, man becomes more understanding and stronger as a person.

In the middle of the maze, a person finds their dreams and goals. At the center (the last turn in the design), man has a final opportunity to look back upon his or her choices and path before they pass into the next world. Several other tribes related to the Tohono O’odham use the same or similar symbol, sometimes with a slightly different interpretation.

Here is how Alfreda Antone, a Tohono O’odham tribal citizen, sees Se:he and the labyrinth: 

“Elder Brother lived in the maze … and the reason why he lived in the maze was because … I think how I’m gonna say this … magician or oh, medicine man that can disappear, and that can do things, heal people and things like that … that was Elder Brother … Se:he … they called him … he lived in there … but he had a lot of enemies so he made that, and to live in there people would go in there but they couldn’t find him … they would turn around and go back.

“But in real life … when you look at the maze you start from the top and go into the maze … your life, you go down and then you reach a place where you have to turn around … maybe in your own life you fall, something happens in your home, you are sad, you pick yourself up and you go on through the maze … you go on and on and on … so many places in there you might … maybe your child died … or maybe somebody died, or you stop, you fall and you feel bad … you get up, turn around and go again … when you reach that middle of the maze … that’s when you see the Sun God and the Sun God blesses you and says you have made it … that’s where you die.

The maze is a symbol of life…happiness, sadness…and you reach your goal…there’s a dream there, and you reach that dream when you get to the middle of the maze…that’s how I was told, my grandparents told me that’s how the maze is.”


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