According to the ancient tales the creator of the architectural style specific to the homes of Minangkabau people was Tan Tejo Gurhano. The design in which the roof peaks up at each end, as in a stand of bamboo, has become the symbol of the Minangkabau. According to experts, this type of structure can withstand earthquakes. This specific Minangkabau architectural design has become increasingly popular again since the 1970s, when the governor of that time, Harun Zain, built government offices with this traditional roof structure. This trend has brought with it a renewed recognition of the skills of wood carvers.
Besides adding an aesthetic, aspect to the construction of the traditional rumah gadang, the carving carries a meaning of their own. The motif chosen has symbolic significance. For example, the kambang manih or ‘sweet flower’ is also used to greet young unmarried women at rumah gadang gatherings. Another motif is the rajo tigo selo. It is found between windows or on the trim. It is symbolizes the three traditional administrative levels of the Minangkabau: the ninik mamak, the alim ulama, and the cerdik pandai.
A third motif is aka cino which is found on the underside of the upward curving ends of the roof of the rumah gadang. This motif symbolizes gentleness and harmony. A fourth motif is the kuciang tidua (sleeping cat), which is found just below the curve of the roof. It symbolizes calmness, alertness, and creativity. These qualities are viewed as important in a pangulu. A fifth motif is the itiak pulang patang ( a flock of ducks heading home in the evening) which can be found on almost the entire surface of the walls. This motif symbolizes organization, security and discipline.
A sixth motif is the lapiah jarami, which carries a meaning similar to that of the Rajo Tigo Selo, and also found between windows or on the windows frames. This motif derives its meaning from the saying ‘small but useful’. It is usually appears with kuciang menyusui (nursing cat) motif, which symbolizes compassions and nurturing love. Still another motif is the jalo taserak jo lumuik hanyuik (spreading net with the moss drift away) which is found on the boarding. The first part of the name, jalo taserak, means that all rules and requisitions reflect the will of the people, while the words lumuik hanyuik means a strong character, like that expected of a pangulu.