Papua New Guinea’s Pasana Group: plain sailing


Two brothers have teamed together to teach the new generation of Papua New Guineans traditional canoe skills.

Milne Bay brothers Sanakoli [foreground] and Justin John in their element.

Milne Bay master sailors, Justin and Sanakoli John, are famous for completing the world’s first circumnavigation of the island of New Guinea in a traditional sailing canoe in 2017. This was a daring expedition covering 6300 kilometres and 13 months at sea that aimed to promote the country internationally and inspire the youth of PNG. PNG Now chats with Sanakoli John about the brothers’ new project, the Pasana Group.

PNG Now: What is the Pasana Group?

Sanakoli John: It is a canoe-building school. We want to teach Papua New Guinean boys and girls the skills of their forefathers while promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Why are canoes important for people in Milne Bay?

John: It is a way for us to fish and go to market and make money. When you have a canoe, you can travel for free and feed your family. In Milne Bay culture, we also have sailau (sailing canoes) that we use in Kula trade, to exchange Bagi and Mwali necklaces.

‘There is a great need top teach our youth our culture.’

You focus on young people. Why is this?

John: We teach both youth and adults, but our country has one of the highest youth populations in the world, so there is a great need to teach them our culture, so they know where they come from and can provide for themselves.

What do your students think of the canoe classes?

John: People are happy and tell us they want to build a second and third canoe. And new people are asking ‘when will you come and teach?’

Story continues after advertisment...

How are you implementing marine conservation in your class?

John: Our close-by reefs have less fish now, so we must give them a rest.
People must fish in proper ways and not target fish such as parrot fish and sharks. That’s why we wish to partner with other marine organisations.

What is next for the Pasana Group?

John: We want to partner with other sailing groups and are planning
a yearly mini canoe festival here at Nuakata, together with the tourism authority. We have started a fundraiser on Facebook and are now looking for sponsors that will help us preserve Papua New Guinea’s cultural traditions.

Learn more about the Pasana Group at

The interview ‘Plain Sailing’ was first published in the April/May issue of PNG Now, Papua New Guinea’s leading lifestyle magazine.

Leave a Reply