Shortly after Queen Elizabeth II died in September 2022, grainy old footage of two women throwing something at poor people went viral online.
It was accompanied with the claim that this was the then young princess Elizabeth throwing food at poor hungry African children.
The social media posts sharing the story were often accompanied with negative comments about the British family, imperialism, etc.
It caused many, often fierce, arguments online.
But pretty much everything about the claim was wrong.
Although the pictures were very unclear we can already see that the claim doesn’t fit the footage, for starters the clothing is either late 19th century or early 20th century, but Elizabeth II was born in 1926.
The fashion we see in the film is clearly not from the 1920s or later.
It was not difficult to find the source of the original footage, even though it was of low quality and colourised, just taking a few screenshots and using these on search engines soon led me to the Catalogue Lumière, a wonderful online catalogue of all the films made by the famous film pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière.
I found the film here.
It was shot in French Indochina (today Vietnam but also Laos & Cambodia), in late 1899-early 1900 by cameraman Gabriel Veyre, who was kind enough to take notes and who wrote down that the women in the footage were Mrs. Paul Doumer and her daughter.
Mr. Paul Doumer was the Governor-General of the colonial territory at the time.
You can see a much better quality version of the footage here;
The coins the women are throwing were known as ‘sapèques’, little coins with holes in them that were often kept together with a string, we can see the young woman struggle with them;
These coins were worth very little, the clearly very poor people in the footage would have collected many of these coins to even have enough to be of any real use to them.
According to the Lumière catalogue the film was shot at the ‘Pagode des dames’, these days known as the Chùa Láng, a temple in Lang Lang Thuong, Dong Da district, Hanoi but I’ve not been able to confirm this as the complex is rather large and has been renovated many times, so I could not find a photo showing us the same location as in the film.
I checked with a few Vietnamese people to see if the throwing of coins might have been a custom or tradition, if perhaps it was something related to that specific temple or a religion, but they could not think of anything specific.
Throwing coins in ponds, perhaps leaving them at a temple or giving them to beggars was something that happened and still happens in that region, there are also some customs involving giving someone lucky money, but according to the Vietnamese people I asked about this, throwing alms on the ground in front of poor people would have probably have been seen just as degrading and tasteless as it is today.
Although it’s likely that a group of people was begging at the temple, it’s still odd that the women decided to get a large amount of coins just to throw at them.
Especially distasteful is that at the time when the footage was shot the French rulers were imposing heavy taxes on many necessities, the husband and father of the women in the footage, Mr Doumer, was directly responsible for some of these taxes that made life more difficult for many local people.
Some of the people having coins thrown at them may have been poor(er) because of this man.
Mr. Doumer later became president of France and was assassinated during a book fair in 1932.
The Russian state television show ’60 минут’ (60 minute) shared the footage and used it as an excuse to attack Queen Elizabeth, the West and Anglosaxons…
Conclusion; the footage was shot long before Elizabeth II was born, it’s not her throwing coins at poor people in French Indochina, but the daughter of Paul Doumer.
- Catalogue Lumière
- Bibliothèque des Archives françaises du film – site de Bois d’Arcy
- Bibliothèque nationale de France – site François Mitterrand
- Hảo Lê
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