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Whey ‘D Nuts Man Gone?
Keith Martin, known worldwide as ‘Jumbo’, began selling freshly roasted peanuts to the people of Trinidad and Tobago in 1974—over 40 years ago. He earned his nickname two years later, in 1976, when the country acquired a Boeing 747, the ‘Jumbo Jet’, and Hasely Crawford struck gold in the 100 metre sprint, becoming T&T’s first Olympic champion. Martin started selling larger bags of nuts and needed a company name. From there, ‘Jumbo’ stuck for both himself and his now famous nuts.
He is a man of firsts. Jumbo was one of the first vendors to sell corn soup on the streets of New York and Toronto. He was also a part of the organisation behind the first Trinidad and Tobago Independence celebration in Canada. And he has rightfully earned his title as ‘The Original Nuts Man’ of the twin isles.
As a young boy, Jumbo watched his mother sell snow cones, bake and shark, sandwiches and corn soup in the Queen’s Park Oval during games and events. From that, his own passion sparked. One day, after pushing a snow cone cart from Cocorite to Independence Square, rain began to fall and the shaved ice in his cart melted. In the early 70s, snow cones were sold for about 6 cents each; his entire box was worth $10. A man of Indian descent found young Jumbo crying. He enquired about the loss of income, gave him enough money to cover the costs (a considerable amount in those days) and walked away. Shortly after, he returned and offered a suggestion: Why not sell nuts instead? The man explained that nuts sold in sun and rain and during the day and night, unlike snow cones. Call it divine intervention; Jumbo says he might have been entertaining an angel. His stepfather granted him $38 to buy and sell nuts as a trial. Jumbo found his calling.
For the past 47 years, Jumbo has been selling nuts at the Oval and the Hasely Crawford Stadium during cricket matches, football games and more. Sports spectators, locally and internationally, know him for his signature move. Jumbo has the ability to pitch a pack of nuts directly to you, no matter where you’re sitting in the stands. His pitching power is so impressive, some fans might even argue that he, himself, should be on the West Indies cricket team. He blushes when I express Trinidad and Tobago’s admiration for him, “I give all praises to God. I am nothing—God gave everybody a talent.”
Jumbo has a long and storied history of selling nuts to the country and solidified the tradition of snacking on nuts while watching sports. He has won the hearts of fans from all around the world and has met countless celebrities and athletes, from Lionel Ritchie to Michael Jackson. For the 1989 World Cup, Canon, the American camera and imaging company, featured Jumbo in a commercial and he was most recently interviewed by Anthony Bourdain for the show “Parts Unknown”.
Fame and tradition was not enough to save Jumbo from a ban to sell his nuts at the CPL 2017 matches in Trinidad. Like many other major international tournaments, CPL strikes exclusive sponsorship and supply deals and Jumbo fell foul of the rules. According to Jumbo, Sunshine Snacks banned vendors from selling nuts during the CPL matches unless the products pitched into the crowd were manufactured by Sunshine Snacks themselves. Unsurprisingly, Jumbo, as a vending veteran, was visibly upset. “It is so damaging to the culture”, he says. “All they’re doing right now is saying, ‘It’s the biggest party in sports,’ but you can’t have a party without bread and shark. You can’t have a party without corn soup”. And cricket just isn’t the same without Jumbo’s nuts.
It is a difficult situation. From one side, sponsors and suppliers spend big money securing selling rights for their products and, understandably, they want exclusivity and need to create rules to avoid ‘ambush marketing’ by competitors. On the other hand, even sellers like Jumbo can become an attraction themselves at sporting events. For Jumbo, this wasn’t just about the money. The ban took away what became an integral part of his life: “I can’t even go and watch a game; I received free tickets and I said ‘nah’.”
He remembers the stadium before it was built into what it is now today—when a local farmer’s cows were used to keep the grass on the pitch low and rushed off before the start of the game. He recalls the galvanized roof of the stadium and the test matches that are ingrained in his memory. One of them is the 1971-72 series when India’s Sunil Gavaskar made a double century in a match against the West Indies.
Jumbo currently sells corn soup in St. James, on the corner of Vidale St. and the Western Main Road, and has done so for the past four years. While this venture isn’t as profitable as selling nuts, he loves what he does and says he does it the best. Through his trials and tribulations, Jumbo found the key to success: find your gift and be the best at it. “If you sweep road, be the best road sweeper”, he says. “If you want to be a dishwasher, be the best dishwasher.”
Although smarting a bit, Jumbo has high hopes for the future of the country and for its people. “Let’s love again. Let’s build Trinidad again. Let’s go back to the old-time days. Let’s say good morning again. Let’s smile with one another again”, he says. “We lost values. When you lose cultural values, you lose your country.”