The people of Wolayta have a rich history. Wolaytas are known for their patriotism, rich culture and extremely modern music. The people of Wolayta had their own kingdom for thousands of years with kings (called "Kawo") and a monarchical administration. The earlier name of the kingdom was "The Famous Kingdom of Damot" - this included the south, south east, south west and part of the central region of the present Ethiopia. The famous King of this Kingdom was King (Kawo) Motolomi who is mentioned in the book as an invader of the north and the king to whom was surrendered the mother of the Ethiopian saint, (Tekla Haymanot). Most Wolaytas assume that Saint Tekle Haimanot was the son of this king. After the defeat which overcame the northern part of its territory the kingdom was reduced to its present size and the name became the Kingdom of Wolayta.
It remained thus for hundreds of years until the expansion of Emperor Menelik II into the regions south of Shewa during the early 1890s. The war of conquest has been described by Bahru Zewde as "one of the bloodiest campaigns of the whole period of expansion", and Wolayta oral tradition holds that 118,000 Wolayta and 90,000 Showan troops died in the fighting. Kawo (King), the last king of Wolayta, was defeated and Wolayta conquered in 1896. Wolayta was then incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire. However, Wolayta had a form of self-administrative status and was ruled by Governors directly accountable to the king until the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. The Derg afterwards restructured the country and included Wolayta as a part of the province of Sidamo.
In 1991 the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) restructured the country into ethnically-based Regions, and Wolayta became the centre of Region 9. Later, Wolayta was included in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR, consisting of the former regions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11) as part of the Simien Omo Zone. The regional government claimed that the Wolayta were so closely related to the other Omotic-speaking peoples of that zone that there was no justification for a separate Wolayta zone. Wolayta leaders, however, stressed that their people had a distinct language and culture and demanded a zone for themselves. In 1998, the regional government attempted to introduce an artificially constructed language, based on the various local North Omotic languages and dialects, as the new language of education and administration for Simien Omo Zone. This triggered violent protests by Wolayta students, teachers and civil servants, which led to the withdrawal of the new language. In November 2000, Wolayta restructured as Zone.
Wolayta people play a significant role in the politics and economy of Ethiopia. They are known for their humble personalities and friendly approaches.