The marabou stork is one strange bird at the center of a gruesome urban legend. I didn’t know the tale when I used the marabou for comic relief in Heart of Diamonds, but decided after I heard it that my readers would feel the reference was just another way the brutality of some African leaders haunts the characters in my novel.
Pieter Jackobsen, an important secondary character in Heart of Diamonds, “…was tall and angular, earning him the nickname marabout dakta from the children in the village because his long legs and nearly-white blonde hair greatly resembled a marabou stork.”
The marabou is more than just a funny-looking creature, though. It’s also a scavenger often found among the vultures feeding on carrion. While I was photographing them along the Kazinga Channel in Uganda, my guide told me that the birds along Lake
Victoria were larger than the ones I was shooting. When I asked why, he said they grew fat on thousands of human bodies, the remains of Idi Amin’s victims, that were dumped into the lake because there were too many to bury.
It seemed perfectly appropriate to keep the double-edged reference to a harmless creature that had been perverted by man’s inhumanity in the text of Heart of Diamonds.