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Originally published Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 12:47 PM

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Haiti 'snake artist' uses Carnival to get by

Saintilus Resilus' day job this time of year is walking the streets of Haiti's capital with snakes on his head.

Associated Press

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti —

Saintilus Resilus' day job this time of year is walking the streets of Haiti's capital with snakes on his head.

He sees himself as something of a performance artist, showing off with snakes and other animals that Haitians don't see every day, earning tips from impromptu audiences during the pre-Lenten Carnival season.

"Sometimes I put the head of a snake in my mouth," Resilus, 58, said while sitting in a plastic chair in his cinderblock box of a home. "It's not something anyone can do."

He demonstrated by stuffing the tip of a four-foot Haitian boa in his mouth. The serpent's tail kicked and curled around Resilus' neck.

Resilus is one of millions of people scrambling to get by in a country where the unemployment rate hovers around 60 percent and most get by on $2 a day.

Resilus has used snakes and other animals to earn a little money since at least 1974.

This year, he has new catches to display: an owl tied to his chair with twine, along with a collection of marsh hens stored in a tool box at his feet. He promises to let them go after Carnival.

But the snakes? No, those will stay.

It's the serpents that help him eat and pay rent, in addition to his work for a neighborhood herbologist. And it's the snakes for which he's most famous.

"I'm an artist, an artist of the country," he said. "If you go on the Internet you'll see me."

Art, however, has its challenges.

Resilus has scars from owl bites on his hands, the palms rough like sandpaper from climbing trees to capture animals. Haiti's snakes aren't venomous, but they have poisoned some relationships. His wife left him in 1991.

"My wife told me, `you can go live with your snakes,'" he recounted, a camouflage bag of five snakes at his feet.

He has found high regard among fellow street performers.

"He makes the biggest shows in the country," said Dieupuisa Louis, 35, a fellow street performer who uses animals.

These days, Restilus lives in a hillside neighborhood above the capital that's part shantytown, part post-quake settlement housing people who left the makeshift camps that sprouted in the capital after the 2010 earthquake.

Restilus welcomes the meager income and his fleeting fame. But his children, at least, think he hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves.

"What my dad is doing is something really special," said Romunus Restilus, a 24-year-old student. "My dad would like to show the world what he has, what he represents. My dad is not only a snake artist. There are other animals like lizards and owls that he cultivates."

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