Hārata Ria Te Uira Parata was born at Ōtaki on 22 January 1925, the daughter of Nātanahira Te Umutapu Wī Te Kākākura Parata, a farmer, and his wife, Ōriwa Tuini Horomona. Her paternal grandfather was Wiremu Te Kākākura Parata, known as Wi Parata Te Kākākura, a man of extraordinary oratorical skill and a leader of great mana among Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Āti Awa. He was MP for Western Māori from 1871 to 1875, and was appointed to the Executive Council. Her paternal grandmother was Unaiki Whare Angiangi, a leader of Ngāti Tūranga and Ngāti Huia descent, hapū of Ngāti Raukawa.
The 11th child of 12, but the youngest to survive (Ōriwa and a later child died at childbirth), Hārata was raised from the age of two by her maternal grandmother, Ria Te Uira Wineera. Although she grew up during the depression years she had a very privileged upbringing in Waikanae. Much loved by all her family, she had fond memories of all her aunts and uncles. Her father had a large acreage of vegetables, a cattle herd, and sheep and pigs, which provided for the family and their extended families from Ōtaki to Porirua. They all shared in harvesting and other farm duties, taking what was needed as payment for work. The home was a hub of activity, a showpiece of Waikanae, hosting family members from Taranaki to Wellington; even passing motorists would stop and ask permission to walk around the grounds.
Hārata went to school in Waikanae and later to Hukarere Native Girls’ College, where she was taught many handcrafts, Māori and European. She became an accomplished seamstress and made clothes for her family and friends throughout most of her adult life. Many young brides in her family were married in beautiful dresses made by her, and these talents were later extended to elaborate floral arrangements and wedding cake decorations.
After leaving Hukarere, Hārata attended Wellington Teachers’ Training College in the early 1940s and was later held in great esteem as a teacher in her community. During the Second World War she took part in fund-raising marching pageants. She married her cousin Matuaiwi Solomon (Horomona) at Porirua on 7 August 1947 and had eight children: four boys and four girls. She was supported and encouraged in all her endeavours by her husband, a builder by trade, who was also very able in the home, especially with cooking and helping to raise the children.
At 28 she was ordained a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ women’s auxiliary, the Relief Society. She held this position for over 30 years, during which time she travelled extensively throughout New Zealand and also to the United States meeting church leaders.
Through her learning and drawing on the teachings of her grandmother, Hārata was eminently qualified for her role of maintaining the marae traditions of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Āti Awa, which she filled until her death. Hārata Solomon was a life member of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, and was on many committees involving her iwi and community. She was also a member of the Ōtaki and Porirua Trusts Board, the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council of New Zealand, the Porirua Māori committee, and the Māori Education Foundation. In 1962 she met Queen Sirikit of Thailand at a luncheon and was presented with a pair of earrings. Her bearing at such occasions drew people to her side. She was always gracious and her opinion was sought on many topics.
Alongside her community work, Hārata became well known as an entertainer. She acted on stage in Porgy and Bess , Show boat , Awatea , South Pacific , Waituhi and many other productions. She also acted on television and participated in documentaries and films. One of the highlights in her life was to sing soprano with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of her poems were published. She was a member of the Māori writers and actors association and the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts Trust.
Hārata Solomon travelled extensively to promote the cultural arts of her people and performed in Hawaii, the United States and Europe. In 1986 she represented her iwi in Chicago at the opening of Te Māori exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History. She loved her cultural heritage with a passion, teaching a local cultural group at home for many years. She was renowned for her grace as a performer and for her patience and dedication as a teacher. An expert on whakapapa and tribal history, she contributed information to the Dictionary of New Zealand biography project from the early 1990s.
Despite debility caused by illness, Hārata Solomon continued to lead her community in her last years and she was made a companion of the Queen’s Service Order in 1990. She died in Wellington on 20 July 1993, survived by seven of her children. Her husband had died two years earlier.