Thu, May

Keith "Jumbo" Martin. PHOTO BY: Maria Nunes

If you're a cricket fan and have seen a match in the Caribbean, Keith “Jumbo” Martin would be a familiar name — and face. As the cameras panned away from the field and into the crowd during slow moments of the match, international sports commentators would sometimes take to talking about Jumbo as he pelted his packs of warm peanuts — plain, salted or honey-roasted — into the stands with razor-sharp precision.

His natural charisma added such local colour and Trinbagonian warmth to any sporting event that he soon became part of the landscape. It was not unusual to see him dance, wave the national flag, or engage in some friendly rivalry with competing nuts vendors, all with his cool Rastafarian swagger, swanky sense of style, and broad smile. So, when Jumbo passed away after a brief illness on March 13, about a month shy of his 66th birthday, many citizens felt as if they had lost a member of their family.

Facebook user Anil A Bridglal remembered Jumbo as “an ever present supporter and figure at National Sporting and Cultural Events”; Anthony Petit wanted the Queen's Park Oval — Jumbo's headquarters — to honour him in some tangible way for the joy he brought; Brendan Bartholomew pressed for a national award; and Paul-Daniel Nahous suggested there should — at the very least — be a “state-like funeral” for “local icon Jumbo, whose name is synonymous with throwing accurately in Trinidad and Tobago [and] took being a [T]rini style professional nuts man to international audiences.”

Before Jumbo could go global, however, he had to etch his name on the hearts of local audiences. He made it seem an easy feat. Naturally affable, he was a genuine guy who adored people, loved sports, and was proud of his country. His ability to be completely at ease in his own skin brought smiles to people's faces; to many, he was the embodiment of a “true Trini” — down to earth, sociable, with just the right amount of sauciness.

He reportedly came up with his moniker in 1976 after Trinbagonian sprinter Hasely Crawford won the 100-metre Olympic gold in Montreal—the first-ever for the country. Upon Crawford's triumphant return, the government named an aeroplane after him. Seeing the obvious parallels with his own ability to make nuts fly — and land — with stunning accuracy, Jumbo took the name of the jet, and a star was born.

Having been a fixture on the regional cricket scene since 1971, by the 1990s Jumbo was enough of a celebrity for Trinidad and Tobago's state telecommunications provider to feature him in a television commercial for its new cellular service:

Flagman Joey Richardson, another sporting event mainstay who would circle the pitch holding a large national flag before matches, fondly remembered his compatriot's penchant for uplifting others, whether it was by shouting advice to the players from the sidelines or hiring young people who needed jobs. Jumbo's assistants would be seen trudging up and down the steps of the Queen's Park Oval in a sprightly manner, collecting cash from hungry customers.

Speaking with Global Voices via WhatsApp, current president of the Queen's Park Cricket Club (QPCC), Dr. Nigel Camacho, said, “Jumbo was a sight to behold! He would be taking orders, and because he had assistants, he would move his stock five times as fast as other vendors taking orders — plus his aim was really accurate!”

Jumbo had a sharp sense of humour and maintained a friendly rivalry with his competitors. One in particular, Nuts Landing, used to quip that his nuts would always land well, while Jumbo's would crash like a jumbo jet. In reality, though, Jumbo's precise arm saw very few misses over the years. He celebrated 50 years as a nuts vendor in 2023.

Advertising executive Dennis Ramdeen gave Jumbo kudos for his marketing genius: “His pack of nuts was the best available at any football match. His price was higher [yet] he got [it] because people saw value. That value came not only from the nuts but the Jumbo Experience. A confident rasta man turning an old trade into a new art. Pure poetry. […] Sending his collectors into the stands as he hurled his product to a waiting soccer fan, amazoning before amazon.”

In September 2019, when Sunshine Snacks, sponsor of the popular annual short-form regional cricket tournament Caribbean Premier League (CPL), took the position that independent nuts vendors couldn't ply their usual trade at the matches because it would infringe upon their rights of exclusivity, Jumbo's advocacy for himself and his peers earned him further admiration and respect.

The sponsor eventually backed down, saying, “When the cricket fans spoke out in favour of all nuts sellers being there as a critical part of the Oval Cricket Culture and the game experience … we simply decided to put our hearts ahead of our strict sponsorship rights.”

Photographer David Wears recalled speaking with Jumbo about the issue: “When they called to tell me I could go into the Oval to sell again, I asked about the other nuts men,” he said […] “After we talk they say the other nuts men could come in also. I can't go in the Oval alone when they outside. How that go look?” To Jumbo, the nuts trade was an intrinsic part of Trinidad and Tobago's heritage.

The West Indies Cricket X account (formerly Twitter) paid its respects in a moving post:

Jumbo was, without a doubt, part of the cricketing family. In 2023, when former India cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar was honoured by Trinidad's Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) for being the highest test scorer (220 runs) at the ground, he met Jumbo, who marked the auspicious occasion by singing a few lines from Lord Relator's “Gavaskar” calypso.

According to Camacho, who witnessed the exchange, Jumbo told Gavaskar that the 1971 test series was the start of his career as a nuts man. He confirmed that Gavaskar received the news of Jumbo's death and was saddened by his passing.

While cricket may have helped launch Jumbo's career, Camacho says the rise of Jumbo the personality, really began with football — specifically, the Trinidad and Tobago national team‘s attempt to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. His enthusiasm and patriotic support of the “Strike Squad,” coupled with his unique way of making everyone feel like part of something bigger, began to mould him into the beloved public figure he became. Jumbo rose to further prominence in the 1990s as local cricketer Brian Lara‘s star was on the rise.

In referencing author CLR James’ book “Beyond a Boundary,” in which he talks about cricket as an art form, Camacho mused, “Jumbo was one like that. He was plying his trade, but was also totally involved and engaged. He spoke about sport from a position of knowledge, and he helped make the experience fun with good, honest, clean picong from the boundary. He was never overbearing; people enjoyed his presence and loved having him around. He was a humble man, a good man. I'm very sorry to see him go.”

In the end, Jumbo's friends and fans remembered him for what he was most — a patriot. As Facebook user Joanne Viechweg put it, “Jumbo! He did his thing!” Photographer Maria Nunes, however, may have best put into words the loss people were feeling when she said, “His nuts came with his heart and soul.”

SOURCE: Global Voices