Paraire Karaka Paikea was the great-grandson of Paikea Te Hekeua, a prominent chief of Te Uri-o-Hau and Ngāti Whatua. His father was Karaka Eramiha Paikea, and his mother was Tuhi Harirū Maihi, daughter of Wereti and Hōpera Maihi, also of Ngāti Whatua. Paraire was born at Ōtamatea, Kaipara, probably on 1 June 1894. After winning a scholarship at a native school, he was educated at St Stephen's Native Boys’ School (1907–9) and at Wesley College at Three Kings, Auckland (1910–1915), where he was dux in 1914. He played rugby for his school, and later for Ngāti Whatua.
Paraire Paikea trained for the Methodist ministry, and was already a probationer when he married Hinerupe Parāone, daughter of Parāone Meinata and Tāruke Hēmana, at Ōtamatea on 19 June 1918. He was stationed at Ōtorohanga from 1919 and ordained minister in 1920. In 1921 he was granted a year of rest from his ministry but remained a gazetted minister of the Methodist Church until 1925. By this time he had become attracted to the teachings of Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, the religious visionary and faith healer.
Paikea began to take a prominent role in the Rātana movement in 1924. He was appointed to the first Rātana federation's council set up before Rātana’s departure on his world tour, with responsibility for health matters. He assisted in the preparation of the petition which Rātana took to the United Kingdom in 1924. Paikea was still stationed in Northland at this time, and was responsible for liaison with all the movement's district and local committees. In September 1924 a meeting of the federation's council demanded that he come to Rātana pā to do his work, or else return all the books and papers associated with it. However, in January 1925 he was still in Northland, authorised to receive the signatures of those who wished to become mōrehu (members of the federation) at Ōtamatea.
In June 1925 the Rātana church and its ministers (including Paikea) were gazetted; in this way he severed his formal connection with the Methodists. In 1926 he was elected to the committee of management of the new federation, with special responsibility for the district committees of Northland; eventually he was also secretary of the federation. By May 1927 he was living with his family in Rātana pā. He was included in a list of those who had resigned as ministers authorised to perform marriages, but remained as a minister in other respects.
From 1928 Paikea was propelled into the political side of the Rātana movement. By July of that year the Māngai (Rātana) assumed the name Piri Wiri Tua for his political campaigning. At the same time he was talking of dividing his body into four koata (quarters), a way of expressing his decision to have Rātana candidates in the four Māori electorates. By October 1928 Paikea had been chosen to stand for the Northern Māori seat. Like all Rātana candidates, he was required by the Māngai to sign a covenant that he would dedicate himself entirely to obtaining a parliamentary seat, take no bribes or payment for his work, and work for the Māori people as a whole, rather than for any one tribe or district.
Paikea was required by the Māngai, in this and subsequent elections, to campaign for the redress of grievances arising from breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, and for Māori autonomy. As part of his adherence to this policy Paikea took special responsibility for the grievance of Ngāti Whatua over the ongoing land losses at Ōrākei in Auckland. By 1929 Paikea had taken over from Pita Moko the role of private secretary to the Māngai. He accompanied Rātana to Wellington in May to petition the government for help to clear the debt on the land around the Rātana settlement, and later in the year accompanied him in the same role on visits to Northland, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Whakatāne and Tauranga.
By 1930 Paraire Paikea was one of the Tokowhitu (Committee of Seven), then the executive body of the Rātana federation, and in 1931 he was again candidate for Northern Māori. He took part in negotiations between the Labour and Rātana parties, but in the 1931 election Rātana candidates continued to stand as independents, though endorsed by the Labour Party. Paikea received 2,109 votes to Tau Hēnare's 3,297. The Rātana party's strong showing meant that negotiations continued with Labour; Paikea interpreted for Harry Holland, the Labour Party leader, when he visited Rātana pa on 4 April 1932. By that time Paikea was deputy chairman of the executive committee of the federation. After Eruera Tirikātene's election to Southern Māori in a by-election in August 1932, Rātana sent his son, Toko, and Paikea to Wellington to assist Tirikātene as his secretaries and to gain political experience.
Paikea divided his time between this work and the federation's activities at Rātana pā, one of which was the formation of the Rātana brass band, named by Rātana, Te Reo o Te Māngai; Paikea was its first trainer and conductor. As it gained in expertise this band was to appear around the country at many events: sporting and political, royal visits and tangihanga. He also conducted the Rātana mōrehu Silver Band founded in 1935, and organised sporting events at Rātana pā.
Although Paikea failed in his bid for the Northern Māori seat in 1935, the strong showing of the Rātana candidates encouraged the Labour Party to invite them into the movement. Paikea became a New Zealand Labour Party member on 2 April 1936 and attended the party conference that year. He was appointed secretary to the party’s Māori Organising Committee and played a significant role in the Rātana takeover of the Māori section of the party. He built up a network of Māori branches through the membership of the Rātana organisation. The Māori Organising Committee also sought to shape Labour policy in the direction of Rātana aims. Paikea interpreted for the Māngai at the historic meeting with Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage on 22 April 1936 in which the formal relationship between the two parties was established.
In 1937 the Māori Organising Committee of the Labour Party changed its name to the Māori Advisory Council; this move came in conjunction with an effort to reduce Rātana control of the Māori section of the party. Paikea survived a challenge to his position as secretary, but Rangi Māwhete, a non-Rātana, was appointed president in place of Tirikātene. Some Europeans were also appointed, curtailing Paikea's power to influence the council towards Rātana policies. Despite some debate, he was selected to contest Northern Māori in 1938 and he defeated Tau Hēnare by 2,011 votes.
Paikea was a popular MP. Fluent in English, he was a dynamic source of support for Tirikātene on such questions as Māori health and housing. Automatically a member of the Native Affairs Committee, he shepherded various petitions through it. Many of his efforts outside Parliament were directed towards finding a solution for the Māori of Ōrākei, whose lands had been reduced to a 2½-acre reserve. He was still secretary of the executive committee at Rātana pā, and divided his time between there and Wellington. He was no longer secretary of the Māori Advisory Council, but continued to be a member.
The outbreak of war in 1939 heralded the most important phase of Paikea's career. He supported the demand to set up a volunteer Māori battalion officered by Māori, and hoped that conscription would not be forced on the Māori people. With the other Rātana members and Apirana Ngata, Paikea helped to set up informal organisations to assist the war effort, but it soon became clear that a formal organisation was needed. Towards this end, in December 1940 Prime Minister Peter Fraser decided to appoint a Māori as a member of the cabinet. Paikea was appointed member of the Executive Council representing the Māori race on 21 January 1941.
Paikea had already been formulating plans for an organisation to co-ordinate the Māori war effort, and he presented these on 13 March. He then journeyed around the country to sell the idea to tribal leaders, and on 9 May his plans were approved by cabinet: a voluntary system of recruitment to mobilise Māori men and women for essential industries, and Māori men for military service, either at home or abroad in the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion.
For four months in 1942 Paikea was minister in charge of the Māori war effort, and he set up what came to be known as the Māori War Effort Organisation. Over 300 tribal committees were given responsibility for finding manpower for essential industries and recruiting for the armed forces; as the war progressed more functions were added, so that Māori felt that for the first time they were being permitted to bear real responsibility for their own affairs.
Paikea's organisation was not universally admired; some other Māori authorities, then usually staffed by Pākehā, complained that it was undercutting their own war efforts and taking credit for them; staff of the Native Affairs department were among them. By December 1942 tribal executives and committees were already functioning across the country; funds were being collected, extra supplies of food contributed to the war effort, and personnel allocated to essential industries.
Early in 1943 Paikea was working with Tirikātene and others on plans to convert the Māori War Effort Organisation into a peace-time organisation that would allow Māori to control their own affairs. On 2 April 1943 he left Wellington to visit the leader of the Rātana church, Toko Rātana, in hospital. He was on his way back to Rātana pā when he suddenly became ill and was taken to a private hospital in Wanganui. He died of acute gastro-enteritis on 6 April 1943. At least some Northland Māori believed that he had been the victim of mākutu. He was brought to Rātana pā, where he was mourned by its people and by prominent politicians. His body was then taken north, the cortège calling at Ngāruawāhia and Ōrākei. He was buried on 15 April 1943 beside his parents. Paikea was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
Paraire Karaka Paikea died before he could reach his full potential, but he had made a substantial mark. The title 'Piri Wiri Tua' had been conferred on him after the Māngai's death; it reflected his status as the political leader of the Rātana–Labour alliance. Paikea was followed in the Northern Māori seat by his son, Tapihana Paraire Paikea.