Serbian poet and doctor. Jovan Jovanović “Zmaj” is considered one of the greatest Serbian poets of his time. His nickname by which he is best known, Zmaj, was from Змаj (meaning “dragon”) derived from the May Assembly date, 3 May 1848, that sought Serb autonomy. From 1880, he edited the children’s magazine Neven (Marigold) for more than twenty years.

Zmaj is the author of a children’s play Šaran (The Carp, 1866) and the puppet play Nesretna Kafina (The Unfortunate Kafina, 1881), a tragedy in five acts. The characters are Ritibim, the King of the Island of Lulupunia, Kafina, his daughter, Kozoder – Zodoker, the Chieftain of the Outlaws, Kafina’s fiancé, and A Slave. This grotesque puppet melodrama was published in 1881 in Neven. The publication is considered as the birth date of the modern Serbian puppet drama, and Zmaj is the “father of modern Serbian puppetry”. The text was at first published with “puppet stage direction”, marvellously modelled illustrations of puppets made of potato heads mounted on poles, with royal crowns and expressive flesh colours. This “Potato Verse Drama” by Zmaj with its absurd humour remains modern and refreshing even today. It is the story of the outlaw Kozoder, in love with Princess Kafina. Longing for the crown and the power, he brutally murders the King, her father. The Unfortunate Kafina ends with the monologue of the outlaw Kozoder, who says: “We are, as you may know/ Actors made of potato/ We are not the images true and alive/ And if I lie, you can have my head.” Whereupon he takes off his head and throws it into the audience. Therein, Zmaj expressed the very essence of puppetry and the art’s unique possibilities. The Unfortunate Kafina has been performed in Serbian puppet theatres for 130 years and is popular for school and children’s puppet performances. It deserves to be performed on puppetry stages worldwide.

Zmaj’s rhymes for children are often adapted and dramatized for Serbian puppet theatres, hence Zmaj is considered to be “the father of modern Serbian puppetry”. There is a Zmaj’s Children’s Festival in Novi Sad, and Zmaj’s Awards are given every year. 

(See Serbia.)