The Wellington Kannada Katte, by its very name, invokes the rural custom followed in the Indian state of Karnataka where local community members meet under the vast canopy of a banyan tree to bond with one another.

For the tight-knit, roughly 200-strong Kannadiga community, spread across the greater Wellington region, the Katte offers an opportunity for its members to bond through their common language, culture and the annual celebration to mark the birth of Karnataka.

“The Katte provides a platform for Kannadiga-speaking people to meet, welcome new members, take part in various events and celebrate festivals,” said Pooja, a member of the core committee of the Katte.

The Kannada-speaking community of Wellington got together to form the Katte in 2015 with around 30 members. The membership has since swelled to around 200. The Katte essentially operates as a WhatsApp group, organising events in community centres every year to celebrate Ugaadi (Kannadiga New Year), Rajyotsava (marking the formation of Karnataka State on November 1) and Ganesha Chaturthi.

These social get-togethers are marked by talent and fashion shows, cultural programmes, games and ethnic cuisine prepared in the community kitchen set up for the occasion.

“ We go on hikes and picnics. We help and guide each other to find jobs, housing etc,” Pooja said.

In July, the Katte participated in the all-women cultural event hosted at the Indian High Commission. The Kannada community was represented by folk dances and songs.

Essentially, the Wellington Kannada Katte, the sole representative body of the Kannada-speaking community of Wellington, is an online presence at the moment, though plans are afoot to drop this model and adopt the standard structure normally followed by other migrant associations.

Pre-Covid, the Katte held weekly classes in Lower Hutt to promote the Kannadiga language and keep migrant children in touch with their cultural roots.

The “Makkaligagi Kannada” (Kannada for kids) initiative launched by the Katte engaged the class in song, dance, folklore and story-telling .

The classes are yet to resume.

“We have a saying in Karnataka: wherever you go, wherever you are, at heart always remain a Kannadiga,” Pooja said.