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When the Universe Was an Island

Exploring the Cultural and Spiritual Cosmos of Ancient Rapa Nui

Drawing by Julian Viaud (a.k.a Pierre Loti)

A book by Edmundo Edwards and Alexandra Edwards

Rave Reviews!

*Click on the links marked in bold to read the reviews



"When the Universe Was an Island is without question a masterpiece, opening insights into the culture and society of this tiny island populated with a vast number of ceremonial platforms (ahu) and impressive statues (moai) devoted to deified ancestors […].  The book covers most aspects in life of Rapanui society, a life deeply soaked in religion. […]. Surely this will be an indispensable book for both Rapa Nui aficionados and specialists. It will become required reading for anyone interested in the rich Rapanui culture [...]."


- A. César González-García, "Journal for the History of Astronomy",

  Spanish National Research Council



"Providing a new perspective on a well known subject can often prove to be a quixotic task, but When the Universe was an Island avoids that trap, thanks in main to the admirable feat of presenting a complex time frame within one publication: from the pioneering skills of the early Polynesian explorers and wayfinders, to cultural adaptation, to eighteenth century foreign explorers and tradesmen in the Pacific, and finally to the continuum - Rapa Nui today. The publication describes particular stages of Rapa Nui life merging into others in great detail, clearly based on a combined effort and a life time of research and understanding. When the Universe was an Island describes the Origin of the Polynesians and the colonisation of the island, the Rapanui Religion and Cosmogony, the Social and Political Organization, the Rapanui Ethnoastronomy and the Agricultural Cycle, and ofcourse the Ahu and the Moai as well as the Rapanui Birdman Cult. The depth of research is impressive, and all elements of island life seem to be accounted for [...].  From reading When the Universe was an Island one is left with an overwhelming sense of paradox; of seismic shifts and collisions, and of continuity and survival. With the shift from the Ancestor Cult to the Birdman Cult and the destruction of the ceremonial platforms, to the collisions following European contact, the slave raids, epidemics, exploitation, annexation, weapons, diseases, and greed. And yet there is a synthesis here; the publication reminds the reader that whilst there may be a global trend for indigenous peoples to reinstate their cultural identity, indigenous culture per se is never a constant. This is clearly the case for Rapa Nui - despite everything, the Rapanui have survived." 


- Peter Robinson, The Bradshaw Foundation, November 2013



"[Edmundo y Alexandra Edwards] have compiled an exhaustive study of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in their book When the Universe Was an Island: Exploring the Cultural and Spiritual Cosmos of Ancient Rapa Nui, opening a window to a little known part of human history. [...] The book, which has an extensive bibliography, dictionnary, tables dof festivals, and other information, is required reading before travelling to Rapa Nui." 


- "The Explorers Journal," Spring 2014



"To my knowledge, there is no other book about Easter Island that incorporates the material that Edmundo Edwards and his daughter, Alexandra Edwards, have collected here. It is a gold mine of esoteric information. [...]. The reader will not hear lurid tales of islanders destroying their habitat in When the Universe was an Island, but about the gods of Polynesia, the ancient rituals of those who settled Rapa Nui, the cycle of life, and those pesky akuaku from the world of the spirits. We learn of the importance of the stars in the heavens, of cargo cults, nature spirits, and deified ancestors – the meaning of life on Rapa Nui. We learn of social organization, connections with the rest of Polynesia, the names of men who became birdmen, and the priests and kings. [...] When the Universe Was an Island: Exploring the Cultural and Spiritual Cosmos of Ancient Rapa Nui is a tour-de-force that belongs in the library of all serious students of the past culture and lifestyle of the Rapanui. Highly recommended."


- Georgia Lee, "The Rapa Nui Journal," October 2014



"Edmundo Edwards is considered a world emminence with regards to the scientific study of the cultural and archeological heritage of  Pacific cultures. Together with Alexandra, they are co-authors of When the Universe Was an Island Exploring the Cultural and Spiritual Cosmos of Ancient Rapa Nui (Hangaroa Press 2013), a valuable publication about the ethnography, history, and archaeoastronomy of the Rapanui people."


- Mario Rodríguez, "Ercilla", November 2013


Price: $89.99 USD
















Preview available. Download the first pages by clicking here.

Book Details

Soft cover: 536 pages


Illustrations:  117 in  b/w


Language: Englisk (UK)


ISBN: 978-956-353-131-2


Size: 23 x 17 x 4 cm


Weight: ~1.4 kg

A Word From Our Readers...



Alan Nichols, Former President of the Explorers Club, New York, wrote:

"When the Universe was an Island is not just a work of art, but also a  tour de force that will be a valuable part of our library [at the headquarters of the Explorers Club in New York.]"


Patrick Kirch, Professor of Anthropology and Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, wrote: 

"Congratulations on this very important contribution to the ethnology and archaeology of Rapa Nui."


Donald Kennedy, Professor and President Emeritus of Stanford University, California, wrote:

"Two months ago I was lucky to spend a few days on  Rapa Nui [...].  It was my second trip and my second chance to get a closer look at the archaeological work being carried out by this amazing team of researchers. Your work goes from classical archaeology, using traditional methods,  to a kind of 'rural sociology' where the oral traditions and documents of the first European visitors to the island are used to trace  the changes in Rapanui society. [...] It was a great pleasure for me [to witness] your profound interest in research as well as your passionate commitment to future investigations, the island, and its people.  I think [this] new book will attract the interest of both American and private foundations, willing to support this important work."


Lonnie B. Williams, Lawyer and Partner at Marshall, Williams, y Gorman, LLP of Wilmington, North Carolina wrote:

"I told my wife one could teach a course about Rapa Nui with this book. I liked the acknowledgement of the first explorers and archaeologists, including Katherine Routledge and Dr. William Mulloy. You and Edmundo now find yourselves among the great researchers that have helped us better understand a really unique place and a culture."


Francisco Förster, Astronomer at the University of Chile, Santiago, Chile, nos wrote:

"I finished the book about two weeks ago and enjoyed it very much. I think it's going to become a classic. One can clearly see the Routledge -> Métraux -> Edwards line."






Our Book Launch



The book launch of When the Universe was an Island took place on 4 September, 2013 at the Parque Bustamante Literary Café in Santiago, Chile, with about 100 attendees including members of the Chilean press. We were fortunate to count with the presence of prominent Rapanui musicians Amahiro (Mario Tuki) and Enrique Icka who not only put on a great performance, but also ¡convinced a young rapanui man that was amongst the public to get up on stage and perform a haka with them! The book launch was a total success and we thank everyone who attended for the support shown to us. Click on the following liks to see photos of the launch. Thank you!


Photo Album I

Photo Album II




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