Around The present channel between eastern Java and Bali's northwestern tip was exposed as dry land during the Pleistocene era, about 20,000 years ago. This enabled settlement by early human beings. Jembrana, in fact, was the first place people lived on Bali.
During WW II, pottery fragments, basalt pebble-tools, and neolithic adzes were found at Cekik, south of Gilimanuk. The remains of a burial site of 100 people were also discovered. A Balinese chronicle records that the region came under the jurisdiction of the Gelgel dynasty in the 15th century.
Two princes were sent by the king to civilize the wild western wilderness, establishing separate courts near present-day Gilimanuk and Negara. The princes vied with each other over who could develop the most prosperous kingdom, their competition eventually erupting into a full civil war, which destroyed both courts.
Jembrana then slipped again into anonymity until 1803, when another court developed in present-day Negara.
When the Dutch subjugated Buleleng Regency to the north in 1849, they assumed control of Jembrana. Neither wealthy nor powerful, Jembrana never played an important role in Balinese politics.
Because of its close proximity to Java, Jembrana was visited early by Chinese, Javanese, and Buginese traders who leased land from the local lords for planting cash crops. The Dutch and other Europeans established huge plantations of cotton, cacao, coconuts, and tobacco in the regency as early as 1860. Coffee land grants were still awarded to Chinese merchant princes in the late 19th century.
Sparsely populated, Jembrana has also been settled by transmigrants from Java and other parts of Bali, particularly after the devastating eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963.
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