Quakerism (cuáquerismo), also called the Society of Friends (w www.quaker.org), is an altruistic, optimistic belief system founded by an Englishman, George Fox (1624–91), who instilled in his followers the importance of seeing God in everybody. From the beginning, Quakers placed themselves in opposition to many of the coercive instruments employed by the state and society – a philosophy that subjected them to severe discrimination when they first arrived in the New World in 1656 – and they continue to embody a blend of the conservative with an absolute resistance to state control.
In the early 1950s, a group of Quakers from Alabama fled the US, having been harassed to the point of imprisonment for refusing the draft (pacifism is a cornerstone of Quaker beliefs). Attracted by the fact that Costa Rica had abolished its army a few years earlier in 1948, they settled in Monteverde. At the time, the remote village was home to only a few Costa Rican farming families; there was no road, only an ox-cart track, and the journey to San José took several days. The Quakers bought and settled some twelve square kilometres of mountainside, dividing the land and building their houses and a school.
Quakerism doesn’t impose any obvious standards of dress or appearance upon its followers – you’re not going to see the jolly old man from the oatmeal box sauntering by – nor does it manifest itself in any way that is immediately obvious to visitors, except for the area’s relative lack of bars. The Quakers manage their meeting houses individually, with no officiating minister and purely local agendas. Gatherings focus on meditation, but anyone who is moved to say a few words or read simply speaks up – all verbal offerings in context are considered valid. The meeting houses welcome outsiders, who are never subject to being converted. In Monteverde, visitors can attend meetings at the Friends Meeting House, held on Wednesdays at 9.30am and Sundays at 10.30am.