Boer is the Dutch word for farmer which came to denote the descendants of the proto Afrikaans-speaking pastoralists of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal (together known as the Boer Republics) and to a lesser extent Natal. Their primary motivation for leaving the Cape was to escape British rule as well as the constant border wars between the British imperial government and the native tribes on the eastern frontier.
The Trekboere, as they were originally known, are descended mainly from Dutch Calvinist, Flemish and Frisian Calvinist as well as French Huguenot, and German Protestant origins dating from the 1650s and into the 1700s. Minor numbers of Scandinavians, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Scots, English, Irish and Welsh people were absorbed, as well as some descendants from early unions with slaves of mainly Indian and Malay descent and local Khoi people.
Those Trekboers who trekked into and occupied the eastern Cape were semi-nomadic. A significant number in the eastern Cape frontier later became Grensboere (“border farmers”) who were the direct ancestors of the Voortrekkers. The Voortrekkers were those Boers (mainly from the eastern Cape) who left the Cape en masse in a series of large scale migrations later called the Great Trek beginning in 1835 as a result of British colonialism and constant border wars. When used in a historical context, the term Boer may refer to an inhabitant of the Boer Republics as well as those who were cultural Boers.
The Boers fought two wars in the late 19th century in order to defend their internationally recognized independent countries, the republics of the Transvaal (the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, or ZAR), and the Orange Free State (OFS) against the threat of annexation by the British Crown.
The Boer nation was well-known for their strong nationalistic characteristics.
Their nationalism was born of hundreds of years of fighting against imperialism, battling the harsh African climate, a strong sense of nationhood, as well as an often conservative Christian belief. As with any other ethnic group that has come from troubled land to troubled land, many of them see it as their duty to educate future generations on their people’s past.
The drive to trek (known as the trekgees) was a notable characteristic of the Boers in the past beginning in the 1690s out of necessity when the Trekboers began to inhabit the northern and eastern Cape frontiers, to the era of the Great Trek when the Voortrekkers left the eastern Cape en masse, as well as later after major republics were established such as during the Thirstland Trek.
A rustic characteristic and tradition was developed quite early on as Boer society was born on the frontiers of white settlement and on the outskirts of civilization.
The Boer tradition of declaring republics predates the arrival of the British since when the British arrived a number of Boers were in rebellion from the VOC having declared republics.
The Boers of the frontier were known for their independent spirit, resourcefulness, hardiness, and self-sufficiency, whose political notions verged on anarchy but had begun to be influenced by republicanism.
Boer War diaspora
After the second Anglo-Boer War, a Boer diaspora occurred. Starting in 1903 the largest group emigrated to the Patagonia region of Argentina. Another group emigrated to British-ruled Kenya, from where most returned to South Africa during the 1930s, while a third group under the leadership of General Ben Viljoen emigrated to Mexico and to New Mexico and Texas in south-western USA.
In more recent times, mainly during the apartheid reform and post-1994 eras, a number of white Afrikaans-speaking people, mainly with “conservative” political views and of trekker descent, have preferred to be called “Boers”, rather than “Afrikaners”. They feel that there were many people of Voortrekker descent who were not co-opted or assimilated into what they see as the Cape-based Afrikaner identity which began emerging after the Second Anglo-Boer War and the subsequent establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Certain Boer Nationalists have asserted that they do not consider themselves a right-wing element of the political spectrum.
They contend that the Boers of the South African (ZAR) and Orange Free State republics were recognized as a separate people or cultural group under international law by the Sand River Convention (which created the South African Republic in 1852), the Bloemfontein Convention (which created the Orange Free State Republic in 1854), the Pretoria Convention (which re-established the independence of the South African Republic 1881), the London Convention (which granted the full independence to the South African Republic in 1884) and the Vereeniging Peace Treaty, which formally ended the Second Anglo-Boer War on 31 May 1902. Others contend, however, that these treaties dealt only with agreements between governmental entities and do not imply the recognition of a Boer cultural identity per se.
The supporters of these views feel that the Afrikaner designation (or label) was used from the 1930s onwards as a means of unifying (politically at least) the white Afrikaans speakers of the Western Cape with those of Trekboer and Voortrekker descent (whose ancestors began migrating eastward during the 1690s and throughout the 1700s and later northward during the Great Trek of the 1830s) in the north of South Africa, where the Boer Republics were established.
Since the Anglo-Boer war the term “Boervolk” was rarely used in the twentieth century because of this attempt to assimilate the Boervolk with the Afrikaners. A portion of those who are the descendants of the Boerevolk have reasserted this designation.
The supporters of the “Boer” designation view the term “Afrikaner” an artificial political label which usurped their history and culture, turning “Boer” achievements into “Afrikaner” achievements. They feel that the Western-Cape based Afrikaners — whose ancestors did not trek eastwards or northwards — took advantage of the republican Boers’ destitution following the Anglo-Boer War and later attempted to assimilate the Boers into a new politically based cultural label as “Afrikaners”.
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