|Ama-gi in the Sumer Cuneiform script|
But, we can trace the word (if not the concept) of freedom back much earlier, to the Sumer civilisation, emerging during the 6th and 5th millenia BC in Mesopotamia. The earliest known written use of the word is from the reign of Urukagina, a Sumer king, who ruled during the 24th century BC.
The derivation of the word (ama-gi in the Sumer language) is interesting. Ama is the Sumer word for mother, and gi means return, restore, put back. Hence, ama-gi literally means return to mother.
How did the notion of freedom derive from returning to mother?
One theory (there is no definitive answer) is that when Sumerian slaves were given their freedom, they were allowed to return to their mother (either literally or figuratively, as in “mother land.”)
The Sumerian culture was a matriarchal one in many ways. Hence, to return to mother would seem to be a natural, and preferred, option when a slave was given their freedom.
There is another possibility.
Sumerian cosmology was a polytheistic one. At the head of the theism was Nammu (a goddess) who created An (God of the Heavens) and Ki (Goddess of the Earth.) An and Ki produced a number of deities, one of whom was Enlil (God of the Air.) It was Enlil who managed to cleave apart his parents – An and Ki. Thus was created the heavens and the earth.
Being separated, Ki married her own son, Enlil. From that union, all life upon Earth was produced. In this cosmology then, Ki is the mother of all life upon the earth.
Thus, it is possible to envisage ama-gi (freedom) as meaning the “freedom to return to Mother Earth.”
Jumping ahead several thousand years, perhaps today we should be seeking our “freedom” somewhere else, rather than pursuing a very individualised notion of it.
For, there is a freedom to be found in Nature, in the embrace of Mother Earth. This freedom is a highly inter-connected, intricate, and complexly interwoven one.
It is a freedom we have become disconnected from. This disconnect has had unhealthy consequences for us, individually, socially, and planetary. In 2005, the author Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to describe this growing alienation.1 In his book he also outlined the benefits of spending time in nature and re-establishing our “natural” connection with Nature.
Is this what the Sumerians had in mind when the word ama-gi was formed? We will probably never know.
However, conceptualising freedom as a return to Mother Earth is a valuable way to approach many of the problems we have in the world today; toxic individuality, environmental damage, and loss of connection.
1 Louv, Richard: Last Child In The Woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder, Workman Publishing Company, New York, 2005.
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