The word "Boerboel" derives from "boer," the Afrikaans/Dutch word for "farmer." Boel is an old Dutch/Afrikaans slang word for dog. Boerboel, therefore, translates as either "farmer's dog" or "Boer's dog" and should be pronounced somewhat like "boo-r-bull." (not Burbull). The Boerboel is the only South African dog breed created to defend the homestead.
Despite the Boerboel's long breeding history, there is great uncertainty as to how many and which breeds were used to create it. It is generally believed that the breed was created from interbreeding native African landrace dogs, such as the Africanis, with breeds brought into South Africa by Dutch, French, and British settlers.
The most likely origins date back to Jan van Riebeeck's arrival to the Cape in 1652. Van Riebeeck brought a "Bullenbijter" with him. Those originals settlers, and later European settlers, also had large, strong dogs that almost certainly bred with the indigenous, domestic dog breeds of South Africa.
In the early 1860s, when military posts were scattered across the South African frontier, bloodhounds, staghounds, greyhounds, bulldogs, terriers, mastiffs, pointers, and occasionally foxhounds were to be found at each post. The Boer dog was a cross between these breeds. It was generally in the vicinity of military posts where the best Boer dogs were to be found. In addition, the best dogs for hunting leopards and baboons were a cross between a mastiff and a bulldog.
Later, in 1928, the diamond mining company De Beers imported Bullmastiffs to South Africa to guard the mines. This breed was also crossbred with Boerboels in the region.