In this paper I take up the methodological issue of combining archived fieldwork notes and contemporary field data in the reconstruction of the recent history of Wolaitta, a former kingdom in southern Ethiopia. The old fieldwork data, archived and little known since the 1960s, consist of the notes of the German Ethiopianist ethnologist Eike Haberland (1924-1992), while the field data are based on my intermittent fieldwork in Wolaitta since 2001. In ongoing research on this subject, I intend to write an historical ethnography of Wolaitta, by combining a study of the methods and interpretive strategies of Haberland as ethnographer and product of his time, with new research. The effort may also allow us to see how his ‘facts’ and explanations fit with current concerns in anthropology and African studies. As the subject of this paper will eventually be elaborated into a book, I aim to be brief here and illustrate the value and challenge of such a reconstruction effort.
The study also is meant to contribute to understanding the dynamics of regional identity in today's Ethiopia, which has been struggling with a very problematic implementation of ethnicity-based federal policies since 1991. A study of a corpus of ethnography gathered in the heyday of German field ethnology (1950s-1960s), in conjunction with present-day research, may highlight processes of identity formation among the Wolaitta, who today in 2005 count some 1.5 million people, with perhaps an additional 80,000 living outside the Wolaitta borders elsewhere in Ethiopia, and having various shades of identification with their country and traditions of origin.